Jide Macaulay has been a Christian minister since 1998, and he founded the House of Rainbow in 2006 to advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ+) community members and other marginalized people. His advocacy has evolved at the intersection of HIV, faith, and LGBTIQ+ advocacy, with intervention in nearly 22 countries. He has been a volunteer chaplain at Mildmay Mission Hospital in the United Kingdom since May 2019. As the chair for INERELA+ Europe, an interfaith network of religious leaders living with or affected by HIV, he is responsible for ensuring that religious leaders are empowered through education, knowledge, and skills to live positively, becoming symbols of hope and agents of change who will help eliminate stigma and discrimination within their congregations and communities. He was recently featured in the BBC documentary, Too Gay for God?, and we were able to speak to him about his life and work in the UK and all over Africa.
Peter Okeugo: Tell me a little about your background and growing up.
Jide Macaulay: I am a British citizen but of Nigerian heritage. I was born in the UK in 1965, but I returned to Nigeria when I was about three or four years old. My parents had come to the UK as students, and they had had all their children before going back to Nigeria. After living in Nigeria until my late teenage years, I decided to relocate to the UK. Since then, I have always lived in the UK. But I went back to Nigeria in 2006 to begin the ministry of House of Rainbow. I returned to the UK after about two years.
PO: What prompted you to start the HoRat that time?
JM: I took the decision after I had trained with the Metropolitan Community Churches in London. I had trained in Inclusive and Liberation Theology; therefore, I was energized by my new understanding and became free. HoR was founded to create a safer and more inclusive community for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) LGBTIQ+ individuals, people of faith, and allies. The goal was to foster healthy relationships among these individuals, their diversity notwithstanding. Since its inception, HoR has been supportive in reconciling marginalized identities with the pressures of society and currently supports interventions in over 22 countries, mostly in Africa.
PO: Why did you choose the UK and Africa?
JM: I live in the UK, but I had a strong desire to take the message of liberation to my home country, Nigeria, for the benefit of the LGBTIQ+ people. Unfortunately, the mission of HoR experienced several attacks in Nigeria due to politics, religious homophobia, and fear, mostly towards the latter part of 2008. I had no choice but to return to the safety of the UK.
PO: Is it the same desire that makes you unfurl a rainbow flag before you give a speech?
JM: The rainbow flag is about representation; I want to remind the audience about the importance of inclusion and diversity. Too often in public spaces, LGBTIQ+ folks do not feel safe. My goal is to present the flag and remind people: "We are gay, and we are here to stay." It is a ritual that I still continue to perfect; I am glad that people are noticing.
PO: You have been an advocate of HIV for a long time now. Were you diagnosed in the UK or in Nigeria?
JM: I was diagnosed with HIV in the UK in January 2003. That was before I relocated to Nigeria for the start of House of Rainbow. It was a traumatic experience for me, but looking back, I am glad I was able to begin lifesaving treatment. I believe that I have made so much progress with my health, and I feel I can help other people with my story.
PO: How did the news of your diagnosis impact your life?
JM: When I found out, I reacted so badly. I cried for days. I felt disgusted with myself. The man I was fond of and a regular sexual partner had infected me, but he disappeared after my diagnosis. I hated him at that point, but not anymore.
The first person I told called me derogatory and unimaginable names and said I deserved to die. I, too, began to think I will die. Before this, I had been a devout Christian, married to a woman and had a family. But I was also gay and living with HIV, so I believed God was punishing me.
PO: At what point did you experience a turnaround?
JM: A good friend whom I eventually told responded differently. He took me to his house, bathed me, and gave up his bed for me. He assured me I would be fine. People began to assure me I would be fine too. I began to develop a positive mindset. I started my HIV medications and strictly adhered to them. I was advised by my care providers and counselors to remain positive. I never told anyone in my family at that time, until recently when I told my cousin. I was under no pressure, but disclosing it also changed my life. Disclosure only happens when one is ready; one decides when to or who to disclose the information to.
PO: Is there a law that guides disclosure of status in the United Kingdom?
JM: The UK law does not require disclosing of HIV status. However, the National Health Service and Public Health England have systems that encourage disclosure as a way of improving health. One is not mandated to disclose one's status, but it is good practice to ensure that PLHIV [people living with HIV] feel safe. It also encourages safer sexual practices. There is no law criminalizing nondisclosure, but we live in a society that is increasingly judgmental of PLHIV.
PO: With HoR being faith-oriented, is the scope of your work entirely pastoral?
JM: HoR has been specifically involved in providing pastoral care services and support for men who have sex with men (MSM) and PLHIV. However, we are also a community of LGBTQ+ people of faith which comprises mostly people of Black African and Caribbean descent, refugees, and migrants. For us, the importance is peer support and adherence to treatment through empowerment programs, workshops, dialogues, as well as special projects and campaigns. We respond to the needs in the UK, and in nearly 20 countries.
Aside from pastoral care, HoR also provides support on asylum for marginalized people, sexual health, and counseling. Our services are not exclusively for self-identifying members within the LGBTQ+ community. We are equally passionate about supporting allies who may be facing similar challenges regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, or background.
PO: Are there country- or region-specific policies that adversely affect your response to these needs?
JM: Different countries or regions have specific policies, but there is a universal policy that guides how we deliver on PLHIV.
The [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals [for] 2030 form a blueprint for a lot of countries and the world's leading development institutions to formulate their policies. Sadly, there have been setbacks even in places like the UK that reported a higher percentage of achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals to test, treat, and maintain adherence. Black people and other ethnic minority groups, as well as some African countries, still suffer major setbacks, while HIV infections increase due to lack of funding, discrimination [against] sexual minorities and other key populations. Many of these problems are fueled by religious fundamentalisms that are equally the drivers of stigma and condemnation of LGBTQ+ people.
PO: What role does faith need to play in achieving the SDGs and UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals?
JM: Faith communities and particularly religious leaders have a role to play in educating the masses, but it is important that they have a better understanding of the targets for the SDGs and guidelines for the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals before they are able to take active steps to achieve the goals.
As conveners and influencers, they can actively partner with the government and civil society for advocacy, towards meeting these goals. We need more faith communities to use their platforms to create meaningful changes rather than in exploiting people.
PO: How did you incorporate the intersection of faith, LGBTQ+ and HIV advocacy to cushion the effects of stigma and condemnation?
JM: The intersection is about bringing everything together -- one's blackness, Africanism, queerness, and also living with HIV. It is impossible to separate these important aspects of one's humanity. For a long time, I lived in fear of who I am. I was afraid to come out as gay or as Christian depending on which group I identified with at that time. I lived in fear of being ostracized, vilified, and punished.
LGBTQ+ activism came with my ministry of justice. I relied on the commission of the biblical Prophet, Micah, in Micah 6:8, who wrote, "What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love kindness and walk in humility with God."
I knew my mission as a justice minister will be incomplete if I failed to stand up and speak out against the injustice, so that became my tool. In Nigeria and other parts of Africa, I have taken risks while speaking out. I was the grand marshall for gay pride in Uganda in 2016 and 2017. I saw firsthand the violence and abuse against LGBTQ+ people. I was sad. In Nigeria, LGBTQ+ people attended our services and often arrived with injuries and broken hearts from the assaults they received. The unjust and inhumane treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Africa makes it more important for me to speak up. As a faith leader with a platform in the traditional mainline Anglican Church, it was necessary for me to be the voice of change and bring our narratives to the frontline of the debates.
In England and the Global North, we have developed a support system for asylum seekers and are able to provide documentation with evidence of systematic abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ability to contextualize these narratives in a holistic way has assisted many to gain their humanity and receive justice in their new countries. Fleeing one's homeland because of one's sexuality is a matter of deep sadness and shame for many, but it is in this time that one is able to understand and value one's freedom. It is my intention to continue to help as many people as I can.
PO: Do you have an approach that enables you to achieve all these?
JM: We are often clear about our advocacy work, which is holistic. Every case and service is unique, because people and their needs are different. When it comes to HIV services, we work independently and also in collaboration with others. In matters of faith and sexuality, we approach this depending on the client's or group needs. If we are involved in other forms of advocacy, we ensure that those affected are given the opportunity to speak and address their own issues. One size does not always fit all.
PO: Have you ever felt overwhelmed to the point of giving up?
JM: It is easy to give up. Many times, I have wanted to disappear due to stress, depression, fatigue, and disrespect, also owing to the lack of love, unity, and support from the LGBTQ+ community. But, I still keep my eyes on the prize and my hands on the plough. I still ring loud the bells of injustice in Africa, especially Nigeria; I expose the religious abuses, violence, and misinterpretation of scriptures; I do not condone societies and families that reject their LGBTQ+ people. I have no intention of backing down, because I know I am on the side of justice for all. Advocating for the rights of LGBTQ+ people includes the advocacy for families, faith communities, and related institutions. These rights are interrelated and cannot always be separated.
Staying on the course is important, as this is how we bring about change in a society that is blinded to the beauty of diversity and inclusion.
PO: What are some of the obstacles you encounter in your work?
JM: Initially, the challenges were fear of death and stigmatization. I was diagnosed with HIV in January 2003. I lost all hope of living and I signed myself off for death. Also, I feared that my family will reject me if they learned of my HIV status, but they were already homophobic towards me, so I imagined they would equally not care if I disclosed my status or not. That was when I realized that disclosing my HIV status was the best thing for me to do if I was to advocate for change.
Presently, as a Christian leader who is gay and living with HIV, my biggest challenge is being vocal towards the unjustifiable bigotry exhibited by Christians who have refused to follow the teachings in the Bible about loving your neighbor.
I am still faced with stigma in church and around people of faith, who question how a Christian can be HIV positive. A lot of people have said it is God's punishment for being gay. Dealing with these challenges has not been easy, but I know better than to believe that. My work has taken me to places such as the Philippines, where I learned about faith communities working to destigmatize HIV by providing holistic care and inclusion.
PO: Did the criticism from other faith leaders become worse, especially following Too Gay for God?, your recent project with the BBC?
JM: Too Gay for God? has received huge criticism from faith leaders, but the reactions have been mixed. However, I am very grateful for the numerous positive messages of compassion, prayers, and love. It has been overwhelming, and I am equally mindful of those who are negative and difficult. I am fully aware of the possible consequences, for which I am not surprised. Presently, I am facing the wrath of some members in my parish, family, and most especially, the Black African communities. Sadly, Nigerians are at the forefront of the abuses against me.
PO: What did you hope to achieve with the project?
JM: I wanted to challenge the oppression of LGBTIQ+ parishioners and enable the validation for LGBTQ+ people of faith. Telling us to leave the church or start our own church defeats the purpose of inclusion. Our ancestors were judged by the color of their skin; women were oppressed, and divorcees were considered sinners. It is my hope that the church will change its mind and embrace a theology that includes all. I am determined to work with the church and walk alongside those marginalized even if it costs me my life.
PO: Looking back, what are some of your measurable impacts as an advocate?
JM: Thirteen years after we started HoR, we have reached thousands of LGBTIQ+ people and advocated on LGBTIQ+ related matters in the headlines, especially in Africa. HoR has recorded interventions in over 22 countries. Personally, I have worked as an activist in partnership with the African Commission and the United Nations. I am the chairperson of International Network of Religious Leaders Living with HIV in Europe. I have been a volunteer chaplain at Mildmay Mission Hospital HIV Care Centre since May 2019. I am an ordained minister in the Anglican Church, which I joined in 2010.
I have worked with many amazing people. So far, my greatest achievements and dreams have been fulfilled in the last 16 years; and through them I have made considerable impacts.
PO: Is Nigeria ready for equal rights?
JM: Nigeria as a country may not be ready for gay rights as a human right; but it must openly and outwardly condemn any attack on the basis of a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. Any attack on queer people is unjust.
I also believe that the LGBTIQ+ communities in Nigeria are emboldened by the effects and history of human rights such as Stonewall. We have gotten to the point where this knowledge is no longer ignored, but is attacked by fundamentalist and conservative ideologies.
However, social media has provided us with opportunities to have a balanced debate about human sexuality and justice; I encourage LGBTIQ+ Nigerians who are bold enough to use these platforms for all its benefits.
PO: Is there an unhealthy rivalry between LGBTIQ+ activists living in Nigeria and in the diaspora?
JM: I don't think there is any tension; I feel there is a misunderstanding of boundaries. We need to have a better understanding and compassion for those in the frontline. Activists in the diaspora still maintain connection to Nigeria via loved ones, investments, and other interests.
The political change must come from a central and universal world view that includes and benefits all people. My position is that we all need to channel all our energies positively to the right sources. There is no need creating enemies within the community; our common enemy is homophobia and injustice. That is why we need one another.
I hope that people would know that House of Rainbow is open to them as a platform to explore collaboration and find the best way forward for the communities at home or abroad.
PO: Regarding developments in the litigation of Nigeria's Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), how can the communication gap between activists and members of the LGBTQ+ community be filled?
JM: There are no gaps in communication; we just don't have a single umbrella unit that responds to the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Nigeria. I am not aware of a lead and/or effective coalition for the community. There is no leadership structure in Nigeria or elsewhere that seeks to manage any of the progress. I am not aware of any lobby of government or constituted body that is addressing the matter. So, for those expecting feedback, as far I know there is nothing to update on. However, there are individuals who are campaigning for change and have made statements about challenging the Nigeria government on the SSMPA. It is best if we find ways to work with such persons and ensure that they work towards openness about how their case will benefit the community. I believe it is time that a body is set up to help with moving matters forward. Then, we can expect a level of accountability.