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Queerness, identity and allyship: interview with Dan Yomi (part 1)

Eli Dingwall

30 June 2022

by Eli Dingwall

( Words)

In May, the La Fosse Pride Network invited queer Black entrepreneur Dan Yomi to talk about his lived experience and advice for others looking to be supportive allies to the LGBTQ+ community. Talent Development Trainer and Pride Network president Eli Dingwall interviewed Dan on the night.

Thank you everyone for joining us, especially our special guest Dan Yomi! Having known Dan since university where he was Student Union President, I've had the absolute pleasure of seeing not only his individual growth, but also the support he’s given to so many people. So, Dan, I’ll let you take the floor and give us a brief intro of your journey so far!

Hi Eli. Thank you for having me! So, I came to the UK from Nigeria in 2014 for my Master’s degree. It’s been an interesting journey... coming to a new city and trying to integrate culturally, not just as an international student, but also as someone who is queer. I remember going to my first gay club in Bournemouth and seeing two guys kissing and holding hands – and they were not running from the police! I thought, this is strange! And that triggered something in me. I didn't think it was possible.

My queer life was non-existent in Nigeria. I was born into a very religious home, and I think my experience at university really helped me to learn – joining the LGBT society and being in a space with queer people. I started gaining confidence, but also, when I went to gay clubs, when I saw queer people, my experience as a black queer person in certain spaces was also different. I just wanted to be me.

I came out in 2018 and it was a difficult moment in my life… my mum was crying, saying I ruined the family reputation, what will the church members say… I just got to a stage in my life where I was tired of being alive, you know? And I think when we get to that point, nothing else matters apart from peace, so I really wanted to prioritise my mental health and not care about the opinions of others. And that led to me founding Living Free UK, because I felt that I want it to be easier for the next Dan to come out. And I think that was part of my conversation with my mother, She said, “Oh, I thought being gay was a white thing” – this confused me a lot because I’m not white, and I’m queer, so what now, right?! But I wasn't really offended because I understand where the ignorance is coming from – and having no references to fall back to wasn't helpful either. I didn’t know any queer Nigerians, and all she saw in mainstream media was something that was not reflective of society, so I thought, I'm going to open this space, I'm going to speak to queer Africans, so the younger me in Nigeria would sneak and watch a YouTube video and see people who look like them.

So, we've been open since 2018, creating safe spaces; I do a lot of work for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees. Going through that process is daunting, so I'm passionate about creating spaces because I know how difficult it was for me and I want to make it easier for young people and people who didn’t have the privilege I’ve now got.

Thanks Dan! That's very interesting. I think that you're right to touch on intersectionality and how it's different for people that are black and queer within queer spaces. When you're talking about Living Free UK, creating those spaces for the for the ‘younger Dans’, what does a comfortable, appropriate queer space look like for you?

Although I was in the UK, where legally I wouldn't go to jail for falling in love with a man, I still feel that as a black person and a migrant, my identities impact the way I’m viewed within and outside LGBTQ+ community. Although I had well-meaning, well-intending white gay friends who I love, some people still made some (unintentionally) hurtful comments. Or I went to Nigerian spaces where people would say I wasn't Nigerian enough because of my queerness. I just needed this space where I could be Queer, Black and Migrant on every level. So, what that looks like within Free Living UK. We’ve done three seasons of interviews with visible queer Africans on our YouTube channel which is amazing because you can’t be what you can’t see, and when you do see something, it makes you feel like you can do that thing. We also create physical spaces by organising events through. We also create physical spaces by organising events throughout the year for LGBTQ+ Africans, asylum seekers, refugees and allies. This has also been an opportunity to educate potential allies because when I spot someone who genuinely wants to learn about my lived experience, we will have that conversation, because part of me feels that they can't know if I don't teach them.

Absolutely. And that’s a big conversation going on at the moment: how much responsibility do queer people have to teach allies how to behave? I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are on that?

So when I said teaching, I just meant personally – you know, if I met a friend who genuinely, respectfully wanted to learn about something they just didn’t know about, I would explain – but the onus is not on the oppressed to educate the oppressors. I'm of the school of thought that the reason there is sexism is because of the actions of men, so men need to educate themselves; and this also goes for racism, homophobia, ableism and transphobia. I think it's asking too much to ask people who are already marginalised to educate people for free, right? Existing in your self is a full-time job, regardless of your intersectionality. So yeah, I think allies should do the work.

People shouldn’t feel entitled to information from queer and other marginalised people… Google is your friend! I think it's also about encouraging a culture where people do their own research. It can be draining when someone just comes to you without any basic knowledge.

I guess on that note, often people are worried to take that step because they're worried they’ll get something wrong. What would be your advice there?

Yeah, that comes up a lot. No one wants to be told they offended someone; it's not a nice feeling. But what I tell people is, it’s ok to make that mistake. I don't think the issue for me is in the mistake, it's actually in our reactions. As a queer person, if someone says something insensitive, of course I’m not happy, but I think it's more about how they react to me calling them out. So you have group A, who would say, “I'm sorry, you know I did not mean any offense” and they're keen to change their behaviour. Then there’s group B, who tend to get defensive. And I think that for me that is where the problem lies. It’s not in the mistake that we made, it’s in that act of listening and knowing that sometimes you will get it wrong. As a cis man who exists in a patriarchal society, I know that I benefit from a system that dehumanises women (both cis and trans). That’s the consciousness I now bring to the table; that of learning, engaging, but also being humble enough to apologise and listen. Nine times out of ten, I think people get defensive and prioritise their feeling of discomfort, but even though they’re not the victim here, I’ve seen a lot of marginalised people get gaslit into apologising. And I tell people,

“If you don't feel safe, you don't have to call out racism or homophobia or transphobia.”

This is just my school of thought… because I also think that the onus, especially in the place of work, would be for the organisation to create a space where people can express themselves and speak up. A lot of times people just don’t say anything because we’re scared, so it’s just being conscious of not prioritising our feelings over the oppression of others’. If you’re uncomfortable with being called out, remember it’s not about you, it’s someone reacting to what you said.

Tune in soon for part 2!

​If you're interested supporting Dan and Living Free UK, or just want to learn more, head to their website.

Learn more about diversity, equality and inclusion at La Fosse.