For W Africa, India a beacon of hope

Chike Frankie Edozien, author of Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, says India is leading the way in securing the rights of the sexual minorities.
Last Updated 16 January 2019, 18:47 IST

Chiké Frankie Edozien, Nigerian-American writer and journalist, Chiké Frankie Edozien, grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, in the 1970s.

In Bengaluru on Tuesday for the release of a reading from his book Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, he spoke to Metrolife about how India’s steady victories are being seen with hope across Africa.

At a session at the Deccan Herald office, Edozien spoke on a range of topics, focusing on the discrimination faced by singles and the sexual minorities, and the long battle ahead. Single people in many African countries are denied promotions as they are not deemed responsible enough to be given high positions, he said.

Excerpts from the interview:

You have lived both in Nigeria and in the US. What experiences do you recall when it comes to the rights of sexual and religious minorities, and people who have no major voice in electoral politics?

Nigeria has a long way to go but that does not mean that people are not engaged. They are engaged in a different way and not like the way they are in the US. People in the US are at liberty to protest, flash signboards, hold town hall meetings, and speak to their representatives. But in Nigeria, we don’t have access to the powers that be. Some politicians don’t give us that respect because they have a false notion that if they are open to us, they might lose elections.

What is it about India, as it is today, that you find inspiring or not so inspiring?

I come from West Africa. India and my country have similar things, and an integral part of this is the heritage. This is my first visit to India but I feel comfortable. I see the same heritage architecture, and the rickshaws which we have back home.

The LGBT community here has had success in the courts. The trick now is to build on that and gain wider societal acceptance. We don’t even have that and we have to continue to go to court until people’s eyes are open.

Which fiction and non-fiction writers do you think represent African and Carribean culture well?

Writers tell stories. They don’t feel like they have to necessarily represent a community. I like Suketu Mehta. Salman Rushdie is another prolific writer. I think his work is spectacular. Emmanuel Iduma, an Ethiopian writer, has contributed significantly. American writer Maaza Mengiste’s work deals with people who move around the world. Diriye Osman’s ‘Fairytales for Lost Children’ deals with Somali and LGBT people. He has some interesting stories and tells them very well. All these writers push me to be better at my work.

Is there a popular culture in Nigeria, like we have Bollywood in India?

We have what we call Nollywood which is outside of Bollywood and Hollywood. It is a big industry. We make thousands of films in Nollywood and have them streaming on Netflix. We have always had a strong literature culture, music and art.

Were there any incidents from your life that made you the writer you are today?

I learnt how to read from newspapers. The book called, ‘A Return to Love’ by Marianne Williamson changed my life. It helped me become a better person, taking and take responsibility for my life. My orientation towards life changed after reading it. It made me realise that you have only one life and that you have to make the most of it.

Any favourites among Indian musicians?

I like A R Rahman. I love his song ‘Jai Ho’. I was hoping to meet him in Chennai when I recently went there but it didn’t work out because he was in Mumbai at that time.

Do Indian films have a big presence in Nigeria?

Bollywood films are played right next to Hollywood films. They have always been there. It is not a new phenomena. People have always watched the movies from India.

Has the #MeToo movement taken off in Nigeria? Are women raising their voice against harassment and exploitation?

Nigerian women certainly speak out against exploitation. They don’t keep quiet about it. We have a problem because we haven’t been able to pass a gender parity bill. The powers that be haven’t been able to pass a gender parity bill.

Was your family accepting of you when you told them about your sexual identity?

I was in my early 20s when I disclosed it to them. I did have some issues with my parents in the beginning but that was short-lived. I don’t have the same family problems as others do. I come from a big family of five brothers and one sister and they are full of love and admiration. I don’t know what it is like to be separated from family.

Blood family is not the only family

Endozien has a word of advice for those from the LGBT community-fighting depression: 'Find a community. For everybody who tells you no, somebody will tell you yes. For those who turn their backs on you, there will be somebody who will embrace you. You have to be prepared because they may not necessarily be your blood family, but they will be there for you until your blood family comes around.'

(Published 16 January 2019, 11:32 IST)

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