After the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) was passed into law in 2013 issues concerning homosexuality are discussed at the fringes and in whispers of the society. It’s considered as sensitive owing to the high wave of discrimination they face in Nigeria, amid this controversies and challenges is Pamela Adie, a courageous queer, activist for the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender and Intersexual) community tells her story to Festus Iyorah.
Lagos, Nigeria—In 2011 Pamela Adie left her family and friends shocked, sending shockwaves into their spines after she came out to declare openly that she’s lesbian.
Pamela’s sexual orientation had been hidden from her family for years, she hadn’t discussed it with either her family or fiancé—even before she walked down the aisle with him. She thought “It would be nice to keep mum about it, forget about my sexual orientation as lesbian and move on with marriage”: to seek change.
But it didn’t turn out as planned for Pamela.
For 24 months, Pamela was living in pain, clothed in apparels of uncertainty about what sexual orientation she should hold unto but with grit and courage she realized straight relationships (and marriage) were not meant for her and the best way to salvage the situation was to wipe the slate clean.
“My pain became more than my fear. I came out because I needed to be free from pain, from telling my loved ones lies, from living a double life (as lesbian and a married woman). The burden was just too heavy to bear,” she said with a serious look that mirrors nothing but sincerity.
“When I came out, I came out to free myself. I didn’t come out because I wanted to be an activist or because I wanted to prove a point. It was really about me.”
Persevered despite challenges
Pamela Adie was born in a Christian home; raised by staunch Catholic parents in the serene city of Calabar, Nigeria. She’s from Obudu in Cross River state. When she was seventeen year old, she left for the United States where she earned a Bachelor of Business Administration, with a Minor in Personal and Professional Communication.
She says she had her first same-sex relationship even before she travelled abroad and having been in a same-sex relationship for years—she thought her marriage would save her from being lesbian.
It never did.
“Even before I came out I was already in a same-sex relationship but I never saw myself as lesbian. I hadn’t come out to myself and I always thought that when I get married it will somehow go away. That’s one of the reasons I eventually got married,” she told YNaija.
“At the end of the day, it didn’t go away because it’s not something that goes away. Your sexual orientation is part of who you are and it’s not a choice”.
After struggling to fit in for two years she couldn’t continue acting straight, she couldn’t put her sexual orientation behind her despite her marriage to a wonderful man.
“My ex-husband is a great guy. He didn’t deserve to be lied to. I felt really bad. For me coming out, and leaving the marriage was really for him so that he can move on and find someone that can give him what he really wants,” she said, nodding to show me she approves of him in words and actions.
In the last six years, especially after the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) was passed into law in 2014, Nigeria has recorded serious cases of violations against LGBTI people. The atmosphere has been stale with homophobic attacks across the country.
A 2016 report by The Initiative For Equal Rights (TIERs) shows that within Nigeria’s six geo-political zones, Rivers and Lagos states recorded the highest number of violations, while states like Akwa Ibom, Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau recorded the lowest number of cases. The cases concerned violations against 28 women and 129 men.
Recently, The Bisi Alimi Foundation released a survey report, which indicates that over 400 LGBT people in Nigeria filled discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity. In the report, there are horrible stories of discrimination—stories of people being denied jobs, people being sacked because their employers found out that they were gay, lesbian.
Amid this high rate of discrimination in a cultural and religious setting like Nigeria, coming out to identify as lesbian was necessary for Pamela.
“If you are in a situation where your right as a human being is constantly being denied and you are constantly being misrepresented, you cannot sit down in the closet and wait for something to happen,” she told YNaija.
“You have to get up and do something. You have to take the bull by the horn. There was just no way I could sit down and just complain everyday and not do anything,” she says.
Furthermore, in Nigeria, discrimination is not limited to outsiders or friends; a vast majority of LGBTI people face violation even from their own family.
Pamela was no different.
“My parents didn’t like that I am lesbian. They were angry. My mum was more vocal than my dad, though. My dad was more loving but the tension between my mum and I was thick. She was of the opinion that I was possessed and that there was something wrong with me. So it created a tension in the house,” she told YNaija.
“I don’t have that issue with my father. It’s still the same till today. He’s still the one I talk to the most. My mum hasn’t come to a place of acceptance as of this point. She’s still struggling with my sexual orientation.”
Pamela is changing the narrative as a global LGBT rights advocate.
As the discussion progresses at her Lekki apartment, Pamela, a lover of good music and an ardent supporter of Manchester United, tells me how changing the narrative is necessary especially at a time when homophobic attacks against the LGBTI community are on the rise.
“One of my mentors, a person I look up to, a senator in the United states, Senator John Lewis, in one of his quotes said “when we see something that’s not right, not just, we have to find a way to get in the way—to get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble,” she told YNaija in an interview.
“That is a quote I take with me every day of my life. If you see something that is not right, that is not just—you get in the way.”
For her, the narrative for many LGBTI people has always been: discrimination and violations orchestrated by people who do not understand homosexuality. But, with the aura Pamela exudes she’s poised to change the narrative. She’s hit the ground running already.
A year ago, she left her job at ExxonMobil Nigeria as a Project Care coordinator, after about two years to work with All out, an organization that runs campaigns on LGBT rights globally.
All out is the largest LGBTI rights advocacy organization in the world. They have engaged more than 2 million members across the globe. They identify moments of LGBT crisis, develop the best strategy to sound the alarm, and mobilize our members to take action either by signing a petition or by donating money through a fundraiser. Pamela is working as a Senior Campaigns Manager for Africa and Europe
Moreover, she’s also a board member at the Bisi Alimi Foundation, an organization established to accelerate social acceptance of LGBTI people in Nigeria.
Through these organizations, Pamela has been working assiduously to make sure issues of violations and discrimination because of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity is drastically reduced globally.
She says “I know they are so many people out there who have the same story as mine, probably worse than mine even. I see myself as a medium through which people who can’t speak, or don’t have the opportunity to speak, can speak.”
Brave Women is YNaija.com’s citizenship series for the month of March. Find more stories in the series here.