On June 8 at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont, gay Nigerian activist Davis Mac-Iyalla enlightened a rapt audience of approximately 40 people about how horrid conditions are for gays and lesbians in that country.
Currently, homosexuality is banned throughout the country; those caught engaging in same-sex activities can be imprisoned for up to 10 years. Recently, the Nigerian government considered—but ultimately rejected—a measure that would prohibit gays from marrying or even congregating.
Having Mac-Iyalla talk in a church was fitting, as he is also fighting for equality in the Anglican Church—a daunting task, considering that Nigerian Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola is virulently anti-gay and supports the aforementioned law that the legislature mulled over.
Mac-Iyalla—who Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) member Bob Schwartz called 'a threat to established order in Nigeria'— also talked about founding the Changing Attitude Nigeria, an offshoot of Changing Attitude England, which is working toward the Anglican Church's acceptance of LGBT individuals. When he started forming the group, he found support among a few of his fellow countrymen. 'Of course, some of them said yes, but others did not want the trouble [ associated with ] challenging someone like Archbishop Akinola,' Mac-Iyalla said.
He also detailed the physical abuse he has endured because he heads the group. ' [ One night I ] was arrested by the police. They said 'You are the director [ of Changing Attitude Nigeria ] —and, then, the beatings started,' Mac-Iyalla said. 'We were then put in open cells. When the sun shines, it shines on you; when it rains, it rains on you. They threw us in the cell for three days without food and water.' However, that experience only strengthened Mac-Iyalla's resolve and his determination for everyone to be treated equally. ( For reasons related to security, Mac-Iyalla no longer lives in Nigeria, but resides in a nearby country. )
The activist concluded his talk on an optimistic note. 'Those who have threatened me [ before ] continue to threaten me, but we have not lost hope,' Mac-Iyalla said.
Mac-Iyalla's stop in Chicago ( sponsored by GLN ) was part of a 20-city tour he is making through the United States. His message resonated with Friday's attendees, who donated almost $500 to help Mac-Iyalla and his cause.