n a country where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, it is no surprise that many of Ade’s friends – those who, like him, are both gay and religious – stay away from church altogether for fear of being outed.
However, an alternative could soon be at hand. Ade is helping to resurrect a religious refuge for himself and his friends. He is part of the team restarting House of Rainbow, the country’s only gay church, which was forced to close in 2008 after a witch-hunt stirred by exposés in local newspapers.
The Rev Rowland Jide Macaulay, the gay minister who founded the church, is leading the comeback even though he remains in self-imposed exile in London.
“We are brought up to believe that you should belong to a religion. We feel that, if we don’t go to church, God will not answer our prayers,” says a young gay man in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. “When I recently told a friend I was having financial difficulties, he said, ‘When did you last go to church?'”
In oil-rich Nigeria, where corruption robs many of even basic services, religious groups provide more than spiritual assistance. Muslim movements such as Izala have built schools in the north, while southern pentecostal groups such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God run universities. “[We] lose out on all these services,” says the young man.
Some argue that African homophobia is slowly waning. Marc Epprecht, an expert on sexuality in Africa at Queen’s University in Canada, says the continent’s growing number of gay rights groups are challenging negative stereotypes.