Transcript of a Twitter interview conducted by Elnathan John on May 7, 2014 with Bisi Alimi.
Bisi Alimi, a human rights campaigner and health advocate who rose to notoriety when he first came out as gay on NTA. He started his advocacy work at the height of the HIV epidemic within the Nigerian MSM community in the late 1990s. In 2004, Bisi’s open declaration of his sexuality, caused a turning point in the discussion on sex and sexuality in Nigeria. In July 2012, he was invited to the White House by President Obama for his work with black gay men in Europe. On May 7, 2004, Bisi was diagnosed with HIV. He continues to passionately do his advocacy work from his base in the UK. This interview marks 10 years of Bisi living ‘positively’.
I first interviewed Bisi in November 2012
EJ: My first question Bisi, what was your first reaction when you got the test results saying you were positive?
BA: Honestly, considering the number of friends I had lost before then, I was sure it was going to be positive. Still, I was shocked and upset when I was told I was HIV positive. It was like a big cloud of a broken dream.
EJ: Were you in Nigeria at the time?
BA: Yes I was in Nigeria. Actually I was tested at the National AIDS Conference in Abuja in 2004.
EJ: What was the climate like at the time with regard to access to HIV care? Where did you first receive treatment?
BA: You see prior to that time, I didn’t even know much about treatment at all in Nigeria. I was so naïve. Also because of the fear, shame and guilt, I didn’t even tell anyone about my status apart from people present. I was waiting to die. I had seen friends dying, so I was like, well it’s a matter of months until I am gone.
EJ: Many people link HIV to homosexuality. However health sources cite over 80% of HIV transmission from heterosexual sex. How, in your experience does ignorance about HIV affect stigma?
BA: You see the conversation that HIV is homosexual disease is right and wrong and I will try to explain. HIV as we now know it was first discovered among gay men in America in the late 1970s to early 1980s. So it was kind of okay to link the virus to that community, however further digging around found that it is not so true. Scientists had found out that a similar virus had wiped out a community in the Congo around the late 1960s to early 1970s. So then the global interest started. However depending on who is telling the story the answer is different. The good thing about ownership of the virus by the gay community is that it brings the right sentiment. I guess you can only face one stigma at a time. So they [gay people] wanted to remove the HIV stigma as a pathway. But in the context of Africa, it is a different story. Heterosexual couples are driving the virus. [About ignorance and stigma], this is multilayered. First there is the image of HIV you see on TV. You know the skull and the two bones – it is scary. Then there is the religiosity or morality around the whole sex thing. HIV is seen as being a punishment.