LGBT+ Nigerians seeking protection in NYC photographed

Because of laws criminalizing same-sex relationships in Nigeria, LGBT+ New York activists held protests outside Nigerian government offices, fascinating Nigerian photographer, Rahima Gambo.

Sparking a flame in Ms. Gambo, she wants to ‘explore the lives of the growing number of gay men who have fled to the United States seeking asylum and a chance to live freely’. During the protest back in March, Gambo got a chance to meet Saheed Ipadeola, a young man living in Brooklyn who introduced her to a few asylum seekers. After getting to know a bit about them, they were able to share their stories that would never be seen in Nigerian media, which would ‘reduce them to stereotypes without dignity’.

Gambo saw them as survivors, Fayemi Shakur from The New York Times reports.

‘Many of the men I document are proud of their identities and still connected to family members in Nigeria, but there’s this constant strain of wanting to be vocal but fearing for family and loved ones,’ Gambo said. ‘All of the men always say there was nothing to go back to. They all talk of this fatigue of the Nigerian system, and the law being passed was a final nail in the coffin.’

‘Ms. Gambo started her project earlier this year while in graduate school and later pursued it as a Magnum Foundation fellow. The enactment of Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in January effectively banned homosexuality, making it illegal for gay people even to hold meetings. The law reinforces hatred of the gay community, the asylum seekers said, going far beyond mere opposition to same-sex marriage. Two men can be jailed for holding hands or other public displays of affection. Homosexual clubs, associations and organizations were outlawed, with penalties of up to 14 years in prison.’

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To better their lives and live freely without fear, some end up seeking refuge in programs like the Asylum Project, providing gender-rights activists with assistance in gaining legal asylum, housing, jobs and medical care.

‘I was told stories of a young HIV-positive man who was banished from his family home and sent to live with his 90-something-year-old grandmother in rural Nigeria, and with a lack of health care, he died . . . A lesbian woman was held captive in a church for six months and forced to endure corrective rape. LGBT people in rural areas and many urban areas in Nigeria don’t know that there are services for them, and now the law affecting them makes things even more difficult.’

Shakur says that Ms. Gambo’s work reflects ‘the loneliness and isolation experienced by gay asylum seekers from Africa. Issues of trauma, depression and suicide often plague them. As a result of being disowned by their families, many had already risked homelessness’. Gambo’s photography encompasses their desire to change their lives — if not their homeland — in their new community.

‘I wanted to explore what that feeling of displacement felt like and the broken and new bonds that formed when you were rebuilding your life and your identity in a new country . . . suddenly free to explore your identity without fear of shame, harassment or violence.’

You can view  the rest of Gambo’s photography and her series Exiled from Home here.