|Apinda Mpako, Pan Africa ILGA|
|Apinda Mpako, Pan Africa ILGA|
Davis Mac-Iyalla, a leading African gay activist who had risked prison in his native Nigeria where homosexuality is illegal, finally said “I do”. And he did so with a message of hope for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Africans: “Don’t give up, be proud of who you are.”
The grooms wore white.
Surrounded by dozens of smiling family and friends they posed on the marble steps of Camden Town Hall celebrating not only one of the happiest days of their lives – but the surprise ending of a story that overcame torture and death threats for wanting to marry the man they loved.
On Friday Davis Mac-Iyalla, a leading African gay activist who had risked prison in his native Nigeria where homosexuality is illegal, finally said “I do” to “the love of my life” Hugo Vedosbeton.
And he did so with a message of hope for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Africans: “Don’t give up, be proud of who you are.”
Their civil partnership has been five years in the making. In that time they have suffered government and church smear campaigns, death threats and torture in Nigeria where homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in prison.
Mr Mac-Iyalla, 40, who now lives in Camden, told the New Journal that he and Mr Vedosbeton, 29, wanted to be “a beacon of hope to the many that are being crushed on the ground for being who they are”.
As the head of Changing Attitude Nigeria, Mr Mac-Iyalla led national campaigns for equality for Christian LGBT Nigerians.
He was fired from his job as headteacher of an Anglican school in 2003 and arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the police in Abuja in 2005.
He travelled to the UK in 2008 to raise awareness of gay Christian Nigerians at the Church of England’s Lambeth Conference and received death threats.
He was granted asylum. But it took until February this year for his now-civil partner to be allowed to follow him. A month later they celebrated their civil partnership at the town hall followed by a reception at their church St Thomas’s in Finsbury Park.
The pair met at a friend’s house in Benin in 2003. “I saw his smile and I said: ‘wow, who is this sweet guy?’,” said Mr Mac-Iyalla.
“It was like love at first sight. He is a sweet, humble, compassionate angel. Had there been a place in west Africa for LGBT people to marry in 2003 we would have been married.
“I have pride in myself and my sexuality and that made Nigeria very risky for me. I got fed up and I had to speak out and tell the [Anglican Church of Nigeria] to stop denying LGBT people because we do exist.
“The church did try to discredit and silence me. I had death threats, people treated me like an outcast, they physically attacked me.
“Hugo and I were living in fear. I wanted so much to remain around Africa where I could continue my activist work.
“But nowhere in west Africa was safe for us. I had no option but to go to the west.”
After being granted asylum, Mr Mac-Iyalla re-trained as a nurse and now works for a south London hospital.
“I want to give back to the society that took me in,” he said.
“I’m proud to be living in Camden because it is one of the best, most diverse, welcoming boroughs in the country and we knew that we wanted this happy day to be in Camden.”
Speaking after his wedding he said he hoped gay Africans “take courage” from their story.
He added: “We will be that inclusive voice, we will speak and pass the message and tell our story.
“And of course we hope that if the government makes marriage for LGBT people possible we will come back here and do it all over again.”
Godwyns Onwuchekwa, who chairs Justice for Gay Africans, said: “Davis as a gay African man has been an icon of bravery, pride and resilience.
“His and Hugo’s civil partnership celebration adds to that positivity and a hopeful future which we look forward to.”
• For more information visit www.jfga.org.uk