Are things better or worse for black gay men across the pond? Kevin Kwame, Damilola Adejonwo, Junior Joye, and Tochi Nwozuzu feel that their lives are not portrayed accurately in mainstream media, which, they say, relies on stereotypes of gay men, representing them only as “camp” and “feminine”. In recent months, hashtags such as #GayMediaSoWhite have been used to highlight the lack of black and minority ethnic LGBT people in the gay press.
BuzzFeed News spoke to Adejonwo, Joye, and Nwozuzu. They said the other problem was a lack of prominent, black gay role models in British media altogether.
“There are role models for white gay people, like Elton John and Sam Smith,” Nwozuzu, 20, said. “The media need to portrayal all the many types of gay men, from gay scientists to people like us.”
Nwozuzu said the poor portrayal of gay men has affected his personal life: When he came out to his family, they struggled to believe him because they didn’t deem him a “stereotypical” gay person.
“People think that when you come out, you’re being emasculated,” he said.
Nwozuzu and his friends decided to take things into their own hands, and set up a YouTube channel.
They shot their first video, titled “Gay Issues in London”, on 9 February this year; the video became so popular that they turned it into a series, including other videos such as “Coming Out – Gay Africans Telling Their Truth” and “Homophobia in London”, in which they discussed the negative experiences they face being black and gay in the capital. The video series gained thousands of views and made the four friends YouTube stars. They admit they didn’t expect their videos to go viral and be so positively received.
“We get a lot of emails and comment from viewers that thank us for making our videos,” they said.
Earlier this year, a man named Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi, was reportedly beaten to death in Nigeria by a mob for being gay. Olubunmi’s death hit a nerve with Nwozuzu, who made a video in response, called “Justice for All Nigerians”.
“This is a tragedy that has been going on in Nigeria, especially since the criminalisation of homosexuality,” he said. “The criminal justice system in Nigeria needs to change.”
Two of the friends in the group, Adejonwo and Nwozuzu, are Nigerian, and are critical of the laws in Nigeria that encourage homophobia. Though they want gay men in Nigeria to be happy with their sexuality, they warn them to “stay on the down low” (hide their sexuality) for the sake of their safety, and say that coming out in Nigeria may not be the “best thing to do”.
“It does upset me to say that,” Adejonwo said. “But it doesn’t upset them to kill someone who is gay. It’s life or death out there. They will have you.”
Adejonwo reflected on his own experience of coming out to his Nigerian family.
“I knew the consequences,” he said, adding that he has had a “bad relationship” with them since he came out, but hopes it will gets better with time. He blames the reaction on what he called a common assumption among some African communities that homosexuality is a white, Western phenomenon.
Nwozuzu said he also faced problems when he came out. He was threatened by a relative, he said, and many of his bad experiences “surprisingly came from my family”.
Joye had a different, more positive experience when he came out to his family.
“I didn’t sit down with my mum and dad to tell them,” he said. “They just knew.”
In the UK, the YouTubers say that being gay and black in London is largely safe, and encourage black gay men across the country to come out.
“There are laws here that protect us,” Nwozuzu said. He especially wants young people to know they have support from their community. “When you’re younger, you’re trying to fight it to please friends and family. Be honest with yourself.”
Despite this, Adejonwo admits they have sometimes faced hostility from the public: He says he was chased through a shopping centre for wearing makeup.
“When a black person does it [wears makeup] it’s seen as abnormal,” Nwozuzu said. “But people deem it more acceptable for white men to do so.”
“I’m tired of being seen as just a gay man,” Joye added. “We’re human, we still hurt, everything we do is still the same. What we talk about in our videos are normal issues. We’re not less human.”
They say they will continue to make videos for their audience that speak honestly and openly about their real-life experiences.
“It can be selfish to tell others not to be themselves,” Adejonwo said. “It can be difficult. You may lose your family. But the most important thing is to love yourself primarily.”