WHAT I KNOW NOW: Matthew Blaise, Nigerian Queer Rights Activist
By Christine Siamanta Kinori
Matthew Blaise is a Nigerian queer rights activist. In 2020, they successfully led the Twitter campaign to #EndHomophobiaNigeria and organized with the End SARS protests to declare that “Queer Lives Matter.” In 2021, their work was recognized by the MTV European Music Awards with the Generation Change Award. When Matthew is not on the front lines fighting for LGBTQ+ equality, they are also working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Literary Studies at Alex Ekwueme Federal University.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CHILDHOOD?
My childhood was really tough. I grew up in a family of 9 and all lived in one room in a poor neighborhood with no access to basic needs, let alone information that would help me learn more about myself and understand my sexuality better. It was a period of conflict, dilemma, and identity crisis. I was trying to come to terms with my sexuality and the challenges that came with it. I would say it was a mix of joy, sadness, extreme loneliness, and a battle.
3 WORDS THAT DESCRIBE YOUR YOUNGER SELF:
Satisfied, angry, and lonely
3 WORDS THAT DESCRIBE YOU NOW:
Resilient, beautiful, and powerful
WHAT YOU WISH YOU COULD TELL YOUR TEENAGE SELF:
I wish I could tell my teenage self that one day it will all make sense. I would tell him not to stress over it because somehow all the struggles will make sense.
WHAT YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT COMING OUT THAT YOU KNOW NOW:
I think what I knew about coming out was helpful to me and I have no regrets at all. I have always known that coming out would be lonely and it would be violent. I knew all these things beforehand. It was not a new dawning to me- that is why I don’t have any regrets.
IT WAS REALLY BRAVE OF YOU TO START A TWITTER CAMPAIGN FOR JUSTICE FOR GAY MEN IN NIGERIA. WHAT LED YOU TO DECIDE TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A TOOL FOR ACTIVISM?
As we see, social media is a very powerful tool for advocacy. We have seen how it has been used to lead powerful online campaigns like Black Lives Matter. I saw social media as a platform that allowed me to talk about the stories of queer people in Nigeria. We can’t openly go out and protest here in Nigeria, but social media gave us a chance to air our issues as LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria. It allowed us to reach millions of people with just a click. The campaign was not planned. I think it was rooted in my anger over the unjust death. Anger translates to many things for me. On that day, it drove me to reach out to people and create awareness about the issues of queer people in Nigeria.
IN 2020, YOU WERE NOMINATED IN THE FUTURE AWARDS AFRICA PRIZE FOR LEADING CONVERSATIONS. HOW DID YOU FEEL TO SEE THAT YOUR CAMPAIGN AND PROTESTS HAD SUCH A HUGE IMPACT?
It felt great. I honestly felt I was recognized by the continent and my own country. Most of the time, recognition comes from the Western countries. I really appreciated that my effort to open dialogue on these issues was being recognized by my own country. It meant the world to me.
THERE ARE MANY MISCONCEPTIONS AND MISINFORMATION ABOUT SEXUALITY IN AFRICA. WHAT HAS BEEN A TOUGH CONVERSATION FOR YOU TO HAVE WHEN TRYING TO EDUCATE PEOPLE ON SEXUALITY?
The most difficult thing about educating people about sexuality is that many people are unwilling to learn. Other times people are violent when you bring up this topic while others make harmful jokes about it. It has been quite challenging to educate people because in most cases, they end up lashing out and attacking you.
YOUR FEATURE IN THE SHORT FILM BY DAFE OBORO INSPIRED MANY YOUNG QUEER AFRICANS. WHAT IS YOUR INSPIRATION AND WHO DO YOU ADMIRE THE MOST?
I was inspired by my own strength. I have been on a tough journey, but I am still here and I am still fighting. I was also inspired by my fellow queer Nigerians who keep fighting and resisting against these systems that are trying to bring us down.
About the Author:
Christine Siamanta Kinori grew up in a little village in Kenya known as Loitoktok near the border of Kenya and Tanzania. All she wanted to do when she grew up was to explore the world. Her curiosity led her to join Nairobi University to pursue a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. She later got a job with an amazing travel magazine Nomad Africa which gave her the opportunity to explore Africa. She also writes for numerous travel websites about Africa and tries to create a new narrative in the media about our aesthetic continent.
Christine claims to have somewhat unhealthy addiction to TV and reading, as it is a fun way to keep herself occupied during the long journeys for her travel writing. She is also a believer of letting people be their beautiful selves. To her, love is love and it is the greatest gift we have as humans.