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 ‘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.
What do you think the role of an ally is?
An ally for me is someone who personally advocates and actively works for the inclusion of the marginalised. And when I say marginalised, I mean various intersected identities; of race, of sexuality, disability etc… an ally is someone although not part of that group is keen, intentional, and willing to put in the work. This person is passionate about solidarizing with that community.
Ok, and where do allies fit in a situation in which someone doesn’t feel safe?
Oh yes, in being an active bystander. So I think it comes down to:
Being comfortable talking about the oppression of a marginalised group. If you’re an ally (for example) to the Black Queer community, this means being comfortable talking about the racism & homophobia that these communities face. It’s a difficult conversation to have I know, but I think understanding, being conscious, showing empathy, and turning the spotlight back onto the marginalised leads to being an active bystander.
Being conscious about our Privileges. This is about knowing that if you say the same thing as someone who’s queer (as a cis-het person), you will get a different reaction and certainly wouldn’t get punished for calling out oppression. Also, having straight privilege (for example) doesn’t mean straight people don’t have struggles, it just means their sexuality is not part of what makes their lives difficult.
Yeah, I love that, it’s kind of this whole thing that as an ally, you should stand beside or behind – but never in front.
Yes, I think you’re absolutely right – allyship is about listening, learning, and supporting from behind. I think when it feels like you’re taking the spotlight, maybe you want to take a step back and just champion someone who is of that group because they may not have access to spaces that you have. And we all have privilege, as I say. It’s not about feeling guilty, it’s just feeling conscious, empathetic and sad about a system that dehumanises our fellow humans simply because of their differences.
That’s a really good point to make. So, we’re coming up to Pride Month soon of course… what are your views on the typical way companies may respond to Pride Month and how you see that fitting in with queer representation within businesses? And also, what kind of pitfalls to avoid as a business?
That’s an interesting question. One of the reasons I was keen to speaking here tonight was because it wasn’t happening in June. The sad reality is that a lot of companies don’t recognise that Queer people are still queer 365 days a year. Don’t get me wrong, I feel It’s important to recognise the work corporations do during Pride, but rainbow washing kind of speaks to the intentions behind it and I’m always curious to understanding the experiences of the employees within such organisations.
Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. So moving on to Living Free, I’d love to hear a bit more about its history and what you have been doing recently.
So going back to my mum’s conversation… I was passionate about visibility, I just needed people to see that you can be Asian, Black, Migrant and Queer. There is also a misconception about some of us who migrate to the UK or US for education or work; it’s the idea that we have been westernised, which clearly isn’t true because Queer history is African History. As you know, I’m out, and I’ve had to pay the price of losing relationships with friends and family.
Living Free UK started as a YouTube channel and we’ve since grown to becoming a CIC (Community Interest Company) supporting LGBTQ+ Africans, asylum seekers and refugees, by creating both digital and physical spaces in the UK and Globally. We do a crucial work in creating spaces for our community to unwind and exist in our unedited selves.
One of our biggest wins was securing funding to offer free therapy for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers during the COVID 19 pandemic. This was run by a culturally competent therapist which led to some very positive conversations and feedback around mental health awareness. We also offered free food vouchers to LGBTQ+ Asylum seekers.
That’s amazing, I always love following how it’s grown over the last few years, it’s been awesome to see.
Living Free UK also launched a global space on Clubhouse called The Cool Off Zone. With over 2,000 members across the world, the club has been pivotal to creating a digital space for Queer Africans in the UK, US, and the continent of Africa. Allies are also welcome to our spaces because when you meet allies who are passionate, who are willing to listen and learn, it makes our lives easier.
Yeah I absolutely agree. I think like you said, you don’t always want to thank people for doing the bare minimum, but also in the world we live in, the bare minimum is often more than most! So how can people support Living Free UK?
You can support us by first getting to know who we are and what we do via our website www.livingfreeuk.org.
You can also donate to our newly launched AfroYanga Hardship Fund for LGBT Asylum seekers.
Currently, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and some have no recourse to public funds. Your donation will help towards our hardship fund of £80 for food per week per person and £25 for phone data, and £50 for bodily essentials per month for each beneficiary.
Your donation will also provide training, certifications & licences such as Cyber Security, Business Analysis, Digital Marketing, Door Supervision licence, etc., to LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers for £600 per person.
Your donation will also provide financial support for staffing, volunteer expenses, and other related emergencies.
By addressing their needs, we aim to contribute to the stable support and well-being of LGBTIQ+ Africans, asylum seekers and refugees in the U.K.
Thank you in advance for your donations and support!
Dan is the Founder/Director of Living Free UK, a registered community interest company that provides support and validation for LGBTQ+ Africans, asylum seekers and refugees. He was elected the 1st Black President of the Bournemouth University’s Student Union and served on the Board of Trustees for two years. He now works full time as a Recruitment Consultant and also volunteers on the Board of Directors at house of Rainbow. He gained recognition when conversations of his coming out as a Nigerian Gay Man to his family surfaced on social media, which was then amplified by the international media.