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Gay Nigerian tells of death threats

African Anglican gays celebrating their Christian faith in front of a poster saying, "We're here". (Photo: Changing Attitude: www.changingattitude.org.uk)

By Christopher Landau
BBC World Service religious affairs correspondent

Davis Mac-Iyalla is an Anglican from Nigeria - nothing unusual about that - but he is also gay and the death threats he has received since being open about his sexuality led him to seek asylum in the UK.

Now he is campaigning at the Lambeth Conference, hoping that bishops will face up to the existence of gay Christians in Africa.

Davis Mac-Iyalla  (Photo: Changing Attitude: www.changingattitude.org.uk)
Homosexuality does exist in Africa - it's not a Western thing, as our African bishops would want people to believe
Davis Mac-Iyalla

I met him just before he began a demonstration at the conference venue on the Kent university campus, joined by lesbian and gay Anglicans from six African countries.

With dancing accompanied by traditional drumming, the campaigners held a banner proclaiming, "We're here!"

Many gay Anglicans around the world still feel that the church would prefer to deny their existence.

Mr Mac-Iyalla's message is simple.

"Homosexuality does exist in Africa - it's not a Western thing, as our African bishops would want people to believe," he says.

His troubles began when, in 2005, he founded the Nigerian branch of Changing Attitude, an Anglican pressure group that campaigns for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church.

He says that the group's success "offended the leaders of the Nigerian church", which went on to issue a press statement denying that Mr Mac-Iyalla was a practising Anglican.

He says that statement, posted on the Nigerian church's website, had repercussions for his personal safety.

"People began to send me death threats by e-mail, by text messages, and it got so serious I had to flee Nigeria to Togo."

Syringe stab

In Togo he received a further handwritten death threat, and then in March 2008 he was physically attacked.

Davis Mac-Iyalla  (Photo: Changing Attitude: www.changingattitude.org.uk)
Mr Mac-Iyalla has become an iconic figure in the homosexuality debate

Someone tried to stab his forearm with a syringe. He showed me what is still a prominent scar.

This summer, Mr Mac-Iyalla was planning to attend the Church of England's General Synod meeting.

On arrival in the UK, he - along with the director of the English Changing Attitude group - received yet further death threats.

He decided to apply for asylum in the UK - and it was rapidly granted.

"I am so grateful to the government of the UK for granting me asylum, for giving me safety, and for allowing me to be alive to continue my work," he says.

Mr Mac-Iyalla has become an iconic figure in the global debate about homosexuality in the Anglican Communion.

He stands to counter the traditionalist suggestion that homosexuality is a problem found only in Western societies.

But his presence at various Anglican meetings in recent years has challenged bishops - though he says they are "not listening" to the gay Christians in their churches.

He recalls the last Lambeth Conference, held 10 years ago.

That meeting affirmed that homosexual practice was incompatible with scripture, though Anglican bishops also committed to listening to the experience of homosexual Christians.

'Change coming'

Mr Mac-Iyalla believes that too many African Christians focus entirely on condemning homosexual practice and ignore their commitment to hearing stories like his own.

Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola who led opposition to the ordination of gay priests
Many African clerics have opposed the ordination of gay priests

Of African bishops, he says, "I think they should open their ears to listen rather than doing the talking."

But he does believe that change is on the way.

"For people like me and my members, to begin to come out, to have pride in who we are - I think change is coming.

"The bishops need to know that what comes out of their mouths is affecting us, and putting us in a very difficult situation."

Davis Mac-Iyalla remains optimistic about the Anglican Communion's ability to affirm the place of gay people.

But as Anglican bishops meet to discuss how the row over sexuality has affected the church's mission, the question is how willing they are to hear his story.


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