Global Pride Warriors

In the spirit of widespread change, meet four international gay rights activists from Nepal, Russia, Nigeria, and Chile.

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 07 2008 12:00 AM ET

Sewedo Joseph Akoro Director of The
Independent Project, Nigeria

Sewedo Joseph Akoro was in the courtroom last
year for the arraignment of 18 men who had been
arrested in Nigeria’s Bauchi state for allegedly
taking part in a same-sex wedding ceremony and wearing
women’s clothing. Almost everyone expected that
the men would be charged with sodomy, which would
bring a punishment of death by stoning. Instead, when the
charges were read, they included only loitering,
vagrancy, indecency, conspiracy, and membership in an
unlawful organization -- all less serious than sodomy.

“It was a
shocker for the conservative Muslims who were in the
courtroom as well as the 500 or so who were waiting
outside,” Akoro recalls. “I suppose the
disappointment got to them, so they decided they would
execute the men themselves. They started throwing stones at
everyone coming out of the courtroom. In response, the
police shot into the air and sprayed tear gas.
Luckily, I, along with other activists and lawyers,
escaped in a car, which we later saw had been hit by a
bullet.”

That experience
would be harrowing for a seasoned activist. But at the
tender age of 20, Akoro has earned his warrior stripes
quickly and under fire.

In 2005, Akoro
and other young human rights activists in Lagos,
Nigeria’s largest city, decided that they
needed to work to fight human rights violations across
the country, with a particular emphasis on sexual
minorities. So they founded The Independent
Project—known locally as TIP.

“An openly
gay man in Nigeria is doomed, as all of his fundamental
human rights are stripped away,” says Akoro.
“Many LGBT individuals who had their sexual
orientation disclosed through blackmail or other means have
lost their jobs and have been ejected from their homes by
landlords or parents.”

In response, TIP
provides safe social space for young LGBTs. Last year
TIP launched its “Dare to be Different”
campaign, which offers meetings, workshops, parties,
and other social events to introduce the organization
to others as well as provide HIV education and awareness.
The reality of HIV and AIDS, says Akoro, is affecting
the fight for LGBT equality in Nigeria. He cited a
recent study that showed at least 13% of gay and
bisexual Nigerian men are HIV-positive. “This has led
for the need for an inclusive HIV program, which will
hopefully help bring about equality to the gay
community and other minority groups in Nigeria,” he
says.

Akoro, who has a
penchant for statistics about the LGBT community, is a
prospective student of history and international studies at
a Nigerian university. Despite his impressive
accomplishments, Akoro is at first unsure if he would
consider himself a warrior in the fight for LGBT
equality. “I guess I could be considered a warrior
because of my courageous move to address every human
rights violation on the grounds of sexual orientation
in a conservative country like Nigeria,” he says.
Then, as if he’s just convinced himself of the
identity, he adds, “Yes, I am a warrior because
I am doing what many young people would not have the
guts to do in Nigeria.”

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