The goal: “a space in West Africa where persons from diverse faiths, cultures, class and sexual orientations can convene, work with faith leaders and communities to create a world in which everyone enjoys all human rights irrespective of class, religious belief, culture and sexual orientation.” Late last month, West Africa moved a step closer to that goal.
The new Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA) held the region’s first LGBT-friendly religious gathering from Aug. 24 to 28 at the Coconut Regent Hotel in Accra, Ghana. The theme was “Building Bridges, Sharing Stories, Creating Hope.”
IDNOWA Co-chair Ngozi Nwosu-Juba told the group that the network’s vision was its driving force. To work toward the goal of an open-minded, loving society, the fledgling organization named “champions” for each of the 10 West African nations represented in IDNOWA.
First West Africa LGBT-inclusive religious gathering takes place
More than 30 delegates from 10 West African countries gathered in Ghana from Aug. 24-28 for the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa’s first-ever interfaith diversity event, which was themed “Building Bridges, Sharing Stories, Creating Hope.”
On Aug. 24, there was an introductory session for delegates to share their personal stories and outreach programs to support their fellow LGBT people. The participants who were from Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Togo told passionate stories of judgment, denial, shame, violence, rape, hatred and pain.
Participants on Aug. 25 focused on developing religious texts aimed at pushing for LGBT rights advancement and acceptance on the continent. As part of events lined up for this diversity event, the first-ever LGBT-specific interfaith worship in West Africa was held with IDNOWA Co-chair Davis Mac-Iyalla presiding. …
Mac-Iyalla added he “saw the need to start the network because both state and other key players in West Africa are using religion as a weapon of discrimination against LGBT people in West Africa.”
“IDNOWA was like the long-awaited messiah in West Africa; our network is embraced by everyone who wants a change in attitude for a fairer and inclusive society for everyone,” Mac-Iyalla told Blade on the need for IDNOWA.
Mac-Iyalla adds IDNOWA aims to achieve its mission “through training, research, advocacy, and dialogue.”
In a report on last month’s event, IDNOWA stated:
The brothers and sisters from ten countries in West Africa … told passionate stories of judgement, denial, shame, violence, rape, hatred, and pain. They spoke about how they overcame, found and embraced love, solidarity, faith in God, acceptance, recovery and values clarification. In all of these stories, they claimed that their personal challenges had brought them closer to God. One participant said that through it all, “God has been my pillar.”
Participants also heard from potential funders, studied scriptural texts, and discussed strategies for achieving the group’s goals. Potential strategies included:
- The need to find and share stories that would unleash the army of compassions that will connect people on shared humanity.
- Find creative ways to get the attention of target audience and get our narratives into mainstream media.
- The need for a communications strategy to guide our work, including the right language and knowledge-building.
- The need for more research on the myths and misconceptions about diverse people.
- Find the voices of parents and guardians who are in religious institutions and committed and caring about their son and daughters and from position of faith leadership, acknowledging that such voices are harder to dismiss.
- Document our stories in short forms that are easy to read-series, looking at various forms of sexuality and religion.
Work on the project was already under way a year ago, when the network included members from Nigeria, Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Liberia.
The network’s founder and co-chair is Anglo-Nigerian gay Christian activist Davis Mac-Iyalla, an Anglican who often travels internationally to speak about the plight of LGBTQI Christians in West Africa.
The other co-chair is Nigerian human rights activist Ngozi Nwosu-Juba, project director of Vision Spring Initiatives, who advocates for the rights of women, girls and other vulnerable groups.
- Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa launches – interview with Davis Mac-Iyalla (September 2016, Global Interfaith Network)
- New W. African interfaith group fights anti-LGBTI bias (September 2016, 76crimes.com)