Yemisi Ilesanmi is a Nigerian woman, resident in UK. She holds a Masters of Law (LL.M) degree in Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights. She is a trade unionist, a human rights activist, a poet and a plus size model. She competed in the Ms Figure 8 photo/video competition and emerged the first runner up. She has also held the following positions- Assistant National Secretary Nigeria Labor Party International Trade Union Congress Vice President, Executive Board Member, General Council Member, Chairperson, Youth Committee (2004-2009) UN/World Bank /ILO Youth Employment Network and consultative group Member International Labour Conference (ILC) Committee Member on Applications of Standards Founder/President, National Association of Nigerian Female Students 1998–2001 She is an advocate and has extensive travel experience as guest speaker to promote gender and youth issues, labour rights, sexuality rights and international human rights. She is also the coordinator of the campaign group Nigerian LGBTI in Diaspora Against Anti-Same Sex Laws.
2)What made you become an activist?
I was a student union activist in my undergraduate years, during the military era in Nigeria. I had many collisions on policy issues with school administrators who were appointed by the ruling military dictators. It took me ten years to finish a five year law degree course due to suspension, strikes, arrests, et cetera. However, I’m happy that I was able to stand up for my rights and that of many Nigerians; it might not be the easy way but it helped mold my character.
3)We know your open about your sexuality will that affect you if you decide to return to africa?
I was already open about my sexuality before I relocated to UK, My relocation is not permanent, it was for further studies abroad and now that I am through with my studies (for now) I hope to recoup the money I invested in getting a Masters of Law degree in UK university. Of course being open in Nigeria had its drawbacks, fortunately I worked for a progressive organisation, the central labour body, NLC. Yes, I did get some disapproving looks from colleagues whenever I attended official functions with my same sex partner, but they all know better than to mess with me. They kept their disapproval to themselves, wisely so. I know many awaits my return, but they should beware cos I am returning even stronger and better equipped to challenge homophobia and any form of discrimination.
For some, in developed countries, coming out as gay could mean loss of friends and family or even loss of job, but in Africa it means all these and much more, it could mean LOSS OF LIFE. Many African countries including Northern parts of Nigeria have laws like shariah laws that actually stipulated that gays and lesbians be stoned to death! Coming out gay is like signing your own death warrant, not many dared do that. There are in fact many gays, lesbians and bisexuals in Africa, including amongst the politicians that make these terrible laws, they just live double lives. They pretend to be heterosexual in public, even marry opposite sex partner, have children, because that is what the society expects them to do, but in private ,they have same sex lovers and live an entirely secret life away from their public persona. That is self imprisonment, it is sad when you cannot openly be who you are, especially when your actions hurt no one nor harm the society.
5)What do you do in your spare time away from working?
I love reading, writing , well writing is part of my work, but I do write for leisure . I am a poet and have written some really good poems mainly on social issues and some erotic ones too! I am a blogger, i blog athttp://yemmynisting.blogspot.com/. I am also into Plus size modeling, I enjoy positively representing Big, Bold and Beautiful women and would love to see diversity on the runway and in the beauty industry. I believe that beauty comes in different colours, shapes and sizes and I will like to see different types of shapes and sizes positively represented in the media and fashion magazines. I will like to see me on the cover of Vogue soon! Also I love taking pictures!
Actually yes! I am the coordinator of Nigerian LGBTIs in diaspora against Anti Same ex Laws and the campaign group organised protest rallies in front of the Nigerian Embassy in London, UK and the Nigerian House in New York, USA recently. Many Africans living outside have been supportive , although many coul not openly come out to join us in the protest because of what their family members back home in Africa would say, nevertheless they are with us in spirit. I think that is a first step, the acceptance that every human being deserves equal rights irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I do get some hate mails from some Africans who feel homosexuality is unafrican, well I wrote an article on the history of homosexuality in Africa , it is on my blog and i just send it to the homophobes so they can get better enlightened. Excerpts from the article reads
"Many Africans became intolerant of homosexuality and transsexuals only after foreign religions were imposed on them. In many African cultures, homosexuals and transsexuals were revered and worshiped as spirits of the gods. Sango, the god of thunder was often described as a beautiful man who dressed and accessorised and had his hair braided like a woman. Sango priests, all men, dress in women apparels when performing traditional rituals. Now tell me that is un-African!
‘Homosexuality has existed from time immemorial, as far back as when same sex persons ever came in contact. Africa is said to be the cradle of human race, it therefore logically follows that homosexuality started in Africa, before the human race started migrating to other places to spread its branches in different colours, shapes and sizes. Many African cultures and religions viewed Homosexuals and Transgender as gods, they were revered before intolerant religion and culture started flourishing. It was the advent of colonisation and the importation of foreign laws like Sodomy laws that brought Homophobia and intolerance into African societies.
‘Many claim Homosexuality is Alien to Africa. I am an African, I am bisexual, I was bisexual before I ever met any white person or stepped foot on European shore, so does that mean I am a fake African?’"
7) Were you an activist backing gay rights in Africa since you came to London?
I have always been an activist right from my teenage years when i was in high school back in Nigeria. I was a student union leader as an undergraduate and I have always been vocal about human rights generally , especially women, youth and sexual rights. This contributed to my resolve to study for a Master of Laws degree in Gender, Sexuality and Human rights in UK.
8)Tell us in a few words about what’s all happening for those that don’t follow but is reading this
The National Assembly Lawmakers of the corrupt and inefficient government of Nigeria were looking for a popular cause, something that would endear them to the majority of Nigerians that are dissatisfied with the woeful performance of the lawmakers in office. They decided to make Nigerian Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals the scapegoats. Nigerian LGBTs community is a very vulnerable group, the largely religious but hypocritical largest black nation on earth are homophobic. Mention gays and lesbians and majority would scream “where are they, let us stone them!” It is pathetic really
So basically it is not just a crime to be gay in Nigeria, it is now a crime to associate with a gay person even if you are the mother, father or family members! This is insane and Africa is not known for such intolerance. This law would break families as family members are supposed to be reporting on suspected gay sons, daughters or sisters and brothers. It is awful! It is also a gross violation of human rights and we will fight that law. We ill not let some ignorant, religious fanatics drag us into the cave.
9)What do you think of married men who have wives and kids but still mess with other guys?
This is common in many African LGBT communities. In Nigeria, I know many who are married to opposite sex partners, but have same sex lovers. In fact it is like an unwritten acceptance code of conduct. I feel sad because the society has forced those people to live a hypocritical double live. The intolerance and fear of discrimination have forced many to engage in marital infidelity. It is important to allow people be who they are, rather than drive them into closets. Many people suffer; the unsuspecting spouse, the children and the cheating spouse too, because that kind of lifestyle is simply torture.
I want the right to love another consenting adult openly without having to sneak around in the dark like criminals. I am bisexual not a criminal and i refuse to be treated like a criminal in my country, continent or anywhere else because of my colour or sexual orientation!