Advocate Micheal Ighodaro discusses HIV care for gay men
in Nigeria, life after he was outed by the Washington Post, and how MSM living
with HIV are organizing across Africa.
My name is Micheal Ighodaro. I am an openly gay
man living with HIV. I am 26 years old, born and brought up in Edo state,
I have been doing HIV/AIDS Advocacy work for 7 years now.
Coming from a country like mine and living openly as a gay man with HIV/AIDS
can be one of the most difficult life circumstances; my life from day one has
always been a misery for my parents.
I knew I was gay since I was 7 years old. My mum always knew, but she always
tried to hide it. I remember when I first asked her what the meaning of gay
was, she told me: “It means evil.” She locked me up in my room for a whole day
for asking her what the meaning of gay was. She took me from church to church
and to witch doctors who tried to cure me of what she believed I was.
After she did this for 3 years, I realized at age 17 that all she had been
doing was not working out, and that I really was gay. She and my dad hated me
so much that my dad asked me to leave his house because he couldn’t live with a
I left my father’s house when I was 17 and then dropped out of my final year of
high school because my dad was not going to pay my fees anymore.
I left home and became free and wild. I traveled from city to city in Nigeria
having fun and sleeping around with different men who were paying me to have
sex with them. I was the newest guy in town and at my age all men wanted to
sleep with me.
I hardly knew about HIV, condom use or lubricants before I learned my HIV
status. All I knew, and very much believed, was that gay men could not get
HIV because we did not practice vaginal sex. The TV and radio led me to
believe that HIV could only be transmitted through vaginal sex and needles. I
did not think it was possible for me to get HIV through anal sex.
My friends and I thought condoms were only for heterosexual people. We
were content in thinking that we were immune against the virus because we were
just men having anal sex with other men. We were not sharing needles or having
This belief changed when I relocated to Abuja, Nigeria. In Abuja, I discovered
what I didn’t think was possible; I was so surprised to see LGBTI
organizations that included MSM who were well informed about HIV prevention. I
attended several trainings on HIV/AIDS and other STIs. I was thrilled
with the newfound accessibility of information.
After attending numerous trainings and orientation sessions at one of the
organizations, I decided to become one of their Peer Educators. It became
my job to provide information to fellow MSM living in Abuja. I also distributed
condoms and lubricants to them. A few months passed, and I decided to take an
HIV test. How ironic that after referring people for HIV, Counseling and
Testing (HCT) and STI screenings, I had never done my own HIV test. Then I
found out that I was HIV positive. The trainings and the fact that I was a peer
educator prepared me for the situation. I was not too worried. However,
the test result still changed my life. I became scared that all my friends
who were still living in Edo State were at great risk of contracting HIV, and
that the person who transmitted the virus to me did not know about his own HIV
status - just like I did not know about mine until I went for an HIV test.
I was also worried about the stigma that existed in the gay community towards
gay men living with HIV, and how so many of them would never want to disclose
their status due to fear of the double stigma that existed. We had lots of
stigma in public healthcare centers and many of us would never disclose our
sexual orientation to the doctors. There was only one doctor who was working
with gay men in Abuja, and every one of us would only speak to him and would
not seek other health care options if he was not available. As a counselor,
I only referred clients to this doctor and if he was not available we would
wait for when he got back to town.
At a time when no one was willing to come out as gay and living with HIV in
Nigeria, and when most gay men needed that one person they could speak to -
they needed to know that other people were in the same shoes - I decided to
come out about my status. I decided to act up and speak out against stigma and
discrimination facing gay men living with HIV.
It was a difficult situation for me because I
lost some of my friends to HIV. I know they would have still been alive today
if it weren’t for the stigma they experienced. Because of stigma they did not
find their place in the gay community. The gay community is busy fighting for gay
rights but they are neglecting and also stigmatizing gay men living with HIV.
The existing HIV organizations are focused on providing services for
heterosexuals and too often exclude gay men living with HIV in their plans. The
government is busy with laws that will kill the gays. The funders are busy
focusing on HIV prevention programs.
It felt like no one was interested in us, gay men living with HIV. It seems like we are almost left to die, and then
when convenient - such as on World AIDS Day, we will be used as examples of gay
men who would not get tested and refused to access care.
I took it upon myself, with support from some of my friends and support from [redacted due to the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act], to put together the first support group of gay men
living with HIV in Nigeria. We also held special sessions with others who did not
want to be part of the group. We did
home visit care and support services to those who were very sick and could not
go out of their homes.
I was then offered the job of a care and
support specialist with the organization, International Center for Advocacy on
Right to Health, based in Abuja. I attended my first AIDS Conference in Addis
Abba in 2011, where I once again saw that gay men living with HIV are not really
I met some amazing African activists during the first MSM Pre-Conference
organized by AMSHeR (Africa Men for Sexual Health and Rights) during the
African AIDS Conference in Addis Abba, Ethiopia. I had discussions with them
and saw that we shared the need for a movement for African gay men living with
HIV. From this we were able to come up with the group, Africa MSMPLUS, which is currently supported by AMSHeR. We
were planning to have our first meeting since we last met in Addis Abba, but we
have not been able to raise the funds to bring people together.
In October of this year, after attending the AIDS Conference in DC this July, a
reporter from the Washington Post wrote a story about me as a gay activist
fighting for the rights of gay people in Nigeria without my knowledge or
The Nigerian media got a hold of it and my story played on the radio and on the
social media channels of Nigeria. When I got back to Nigeria, my apartment was
burned down. Days later I was attacked by unknown men who seemed to have known
me very well based on the circulation of my story. I was almost killed that
night, only to have been saved by a total stranger. I broke my arm and had some
Then I started receiving very scary and serious threats, and even my own family
threatened to have me killed. With support from [redacted due to the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act] I was able to raise funds to
get a ticket and travel out of Nigeria to come to New York City.
I came here with literally nothing on me. I don’t have a job and I can’t see
myself doing anything but advocacy, service to mankind, and developmental work.
I also wish to finally go back to school, which I could not do when I was in
Nigeria because of the stigma that comes with living openly with HIV and being
Lastly, I want to emphasize that gay men living with HIV need to be heard, and
need more support than just the pills we are given. Stigma and discrimination
will not end when most networks of people living with HIV still do not include
gay men living with HIV in their plans. Young gay men living with HIV like
myself need more support and care from you. We have lost everything because of
who we are. We don’t know where we belong anymore and we face more stigmas then
you could ever imagine. There are laws that will pass in countries like mine
and many others in Africa that will kill us; these laws will close our access
to health care services. These laws will drive us underground.
What we need instead are laws that will ensure we have access to the
information which teaches us how to protect ourselves from getting infected.
Information that will keep those of us who are already living with HIV from
passing the virus to others. We need laws that will make sure all at risk
people: Gay men, young people, sex workers, and people who use drugs have
access to information, testing, condoms, lubricant, and treatment.
So here is my question, my challenge, my plea to you as we pass the
twenty-fourth annual World AIDS Day. What are you going to do to end the
AIDS epidemic in your sphere of influence? What you do or don’t do
matters. Whatever your part is, it is critically important, to people
living with HIV worldwide. It is so important to gay men living with HIV in
Africa at this time when there is no one standing for them, when there are laws
about to be passed to block their access to health care services. I urge you
today on behalf of young people living with HIV and gay men living with
HIV/AIDS worldwide, for every one of you to help us stand up to end AIDS stigma
and discrimination and help us fight for the life we too deserve to live.