Creating Reasons to Live: Overcoming Gay-Bashing and Ebola in Africa

New York, N.Y. In 2017 the J. Luce Foundation awarded HIV & AIDS educator, activist and human rights defender-in-exile Ghislain Joël Nkontchou Honorable Mention for his work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in his native country of Cameroon, Central Africa where he was forced to confront homophobia and eventually flee into exile to the United States. At that time he was 22 years old.

Isaac Bayoh09Representing youth at the United Nations. Photo courtesy of Isaac Bayoh.

Today, history repeats itself as we award Isaac Sheku Bayoh, a young global leader of our foundation and our youth representative to the United Nations, for his volunteer work there and with our Young Global Leadership Initiative. Isaac, born in in Freetown, the capital Sierra Leone in West Africa, is now 21 years of age and serves as vice president of the New York Global Leaders Lions & Leos Club.

Like me, Isaac is gay. Growing up in Ohio in the 1960s and ‘70’s was difficult for me, but absolutely nothing compared to what Isaac endured… I interviewed Isaac at great length about his childhood growing up “effeminate” in Africa. He shared vividly:

In my community, everyone was religious and overly superstitious. Life was strenuous as my mother worked two jobs to make ends meet. She was secretary at the local bank and also sold clothes for my aunt’s boutique. I saw how hard my mother worked for us and the only way I knew how to make her happy was to be well behaved and bring home stellar grades.

Isaac Bayoh11Representing the J. Luce Foundation as a Young Global Leader
at a gala in New York City. Photo: The Stewardship Report.

He knew as a child he was somehow “different.” His father had abandoned the family when he was an infant and he lived with his mother.

My male cousins and other boys did not like to play with me and they would call me names such as Isha (“he-she”). During the summer holidays when my mother would go to work she would leave me with my father’s elder brother who would ‘discipline’ me in ways I would not want any kid my age to be disciplined…

I vividly remember one summer I was helping my cousin, his daughter, braid her hair while the other boys were playing football in the yard when he walked in on us. He quickly walked passed us only to come out again with his belt swinging at us. Knowing her father, my cousin squeezed passed the corner door in the kitchen and ran.

Uncle threw me on the floor and held me by one leg, striking me with the belt. I remember him shouting in the local language. “You’re not going to be homosexual under my watch! I will discipline you for your mother!” I went home that evening, bloodied and crying to my mother.

Isaac Bayoh08Years later, Isaac would advocate upon the Sustainable Development Goals at the
United Nations, with special attention to gender and sexual orientation bias.
Photo: The Stewardship Report.

How did this make you feel, I asked?

Powerless. Because my mother was or thought she was powerless. She was so angry I had been beaten, but said she could do nothing as she was ‘only a woman.’ She thought if I behaved like a man, he would leave me alone. ‘You need to be strong and able-bodied. Stop playing with the girls. Boys to Boys and Girls to Girls,’ she cautioned me.

600-Isaac copyIsaac Bayoh was once a little boy in a West African village.
Photo “Hope for the future” by Nathaniel Tetteh via Unsplash.

He then shared what childhood was like for him outside of the family:

As a fatherless child, growing up was a time of uncertainty, manipulations, and insecurity. At school, I was picked at by teachers as well as my peers. When I was in class six, a particular English teacher, ‘Uncle Joseph,’ would always call me out during reading sessions and humiliate me. He would ask me to read a certain passage out loud in front of the class and as soon as I would start reading he would take out his cane and whip me as he yelled: ‘Read louder – like a man. Only girls should read quietly like that!’ Some of my peers would laugh and I grew insecure…

I remember walking down the hallway on my way to the bathroom when another boy tripped me, scolding me to walk ‘normally’ and to stop ‘melting.’ I fell and busted my lip. I went home crying to my sister who was angered by the way I was treated at school. She would always promise me that things would change for the better. My mother eventually changed me from that school and moved me to another school. Things didn’t really change though.

The teachers would just stare and look at me with pity like I was this freak. I had no friends then and looked forward to taking the National Primary School Examination to gain admission into secondary school. I isolated myself during lunch breaks and indulged in reading and writing. When the national exams came I got a score high enough to admit me into the most prestigious school in the country, the Sierra Leone Grammar School. I saw this as an enormous opportunity to start anew and make new friends. To escape!

Isaac Bayoh07Isaac Bayoh (middle) with other African youth advocating for and end to
gender and sexual orientation discrimination. Photo courtesy of Isaac Bayoh.

He then moved in with his aunt to attend this prestigious junior high school far away from his mother’s home. He did not know his aunt well as she had just returned from the United Kingdom to focus on her clothing line; she was able to pay his tuition.

Being emotionally disabled and lacking paternal protection, I realize now how I was an easy prey. My aunt had many male acquaintances who would visit us frequently. These men were very notable in our country and my aunt advised me never to repeat anything I might hear or see. My aunt really loved me and I felt in some way she understood me more than I understood myself. She would always tell me to stand up for myself and be strong, especially when I was about to begin at the all-boys school.

The week before school one of these men came over and I vividly remember the day… It was raining and he came inside a bit wet and asked for a towel. Aunty was still at the shop then, so I assumed she would be home sooner than later. I was prepping food for the evening when he called me upstairs. I came into the room to find him in a towel on the bed and three empty bottles of Guinness stout and a half drunk bottle of Heineken on the bedside table.

He had asked me to massage him and I told him that I did not know how to do it but he assured me that it was simple and easy. I was rubbing uncle’s back when he turned around and I noticed he was fully erect. I pulled back and he caught my hand assuring me it okay and that he would not do me any harm.

He told me that his member needed a massage too and he guided my hand there. We call family friends ‘uncle,’ so I said urgently but politely, ‘Uncle please, wait, Aunty is coming soon.’ He hushed me and told me to squeeze it tightly with a very stern tone. I did as I was instructed, although I was confused, very confused.

Uncle was groaning and making funny noises. I did not know my aunt had come home and walked in on us. Aunty yelled ‘Lord have mercy! My child, you have killed me!’ Naked, the man jumped up so quickly he kicked me in the face trying to avoid Aunty who had lunged at him. I was crying bitterly as I ran downstairs, hands sweating, my whole body shaking.

I had never seen my aunt in such a vicious rage before and I felt like it was all my fault. I heard the front door slam and Aunty came yelling my name and found me crying in my room. She flogged me severely with a cane shouting that I should’ve ‘stood up for myself.’ That I was the ‘man of the house’ and that I should always be ready to ‘fight for myself.’

The more bitterly she cried, the harder she flogged me. She fell to the floor beside me as she flung the cane and hugged me tightly. We were both crying. I felt so much anger and hate for her. We didn’t eat that evening and everyone was quiet in the house…

The following morning Aunty came to my room. She said she was sorry for beating me, that ‘uncle’ took advantage of me, and that she wasn’t there for me. I loved Aunty because I saw she loved me too. She wanted the best for me and she would do anything to keep me safe. She advised me not to tell anyone about the incident because if I did, no one would believe me – and that it would ruin her business. I nodded my head.

Aunty then gave me a small white bottle filled with pepper water. She carried on to say with a funny tone that if any ‘foolish boy tried to treat me less than a man I should pepper his eyes!’ We both laughed as she placed my head on her chest while humming a gospel hymn.

sierra-leone-grammar-school-7Isaac thought he would find relief at the all-boys Sierra Leone Grammar School.
Photo: Financial Intelligence Unit, Sierra Leone.

I asked Isaac about his experience in the all-boys junior high school. He explained:

I started the Sierra Leone Grammar School the following week, September 2008. It was a fresh start for me, a place to meet new people and I was determined to make the best of it. I soon found out that I was not so welcomed by many. Even though it was an all-boys school and I thought it’d be different, it only was a recycling of my elementary school experience. I joined some school clubs but was not allowed to participate or represent them because I was “too effeminate.”

I made a few friends who were my senior. They looked out for me as big brothers would. We named our friend group “Rare Gems” as they were also gay. It was in the Christian Fellowship known as Scripture Union that I met Adrian, also gay. We became prayer partners and I got to know him better and better. As time went on I realized he too was being maltreated at home. That was our common bond.

Adrian wrote poems and articles for the local newspaper. He started writing anonymously about how boys like us were being treated at school and touched on all things taboo to the African tradition. When my school got news of this article they were forced to let me participate in activities henceforth. My aunt encouraged me to join my school’s paper as it would be a platform to advocate for boys and girls who were “colorful” as she put it. So I did – and found my voice.

Isaac Bayoh12Eventually, Isaac Bayoh landed safely in New Jersey where he became lead soloist
in the Port Morris United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Isaac Bayoh.

What did that look like, Isaac?

I joined the Regentonian News Journal where I learned about writing. The school paper served as a base for grooming young journalists. I began to write about the state of gender equality in my country. I also voiced out the notion of discrimination in our school. Stressing on the angles of the fragility of masculinity, the perceived “homosexual agenda,” and the state of mental instability in the country.

We started receiving notes and letters of mixed feelings in the ‘Feedback Box’ outside our newsroom. Some were letters confiding in me of their sexuality and how they were inspired by my weekly presentations on fighting the system. Other letters and notes were of hate and I vividly remembered a note that asked, “You think that you are the savior of the homos, eh? Well, we’ll crucify you.” I showed our advisor and he made sure to report the threat but all the other teachers had to say that ‘it’s just boys game – it’s nothing.’

The following week I was attacked after school while waiting for the bus. Dirt was thrown in my eyes and I was kicked and beaten up while they were shouting: ‘You na homo, we for kill you.” “We go beat you for you mami tiday. You wait! Enti na you wan be di savior, we dae crucify you tiday.’

(Loose translation: “You are a gay and you should be killed. We will beat you for your mother today. Since you want to be a savior, we will sacrifice you today.”)

I was saved by one of the women teachers who screamed at the boys as they ran away. She loaded me onto a motorbike to the hospital and I did not go to school for weeks. I was stabbed by one of the boys with a pencil along my left arm. When I returned to school I never went back to the News Journal in fear of my life…

Isaac Bayoh - Other5All the boys started shouting, ‘Oh, my God, he has a penis – the girl has a penis!’
Photo: U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).

Do you have any fond memories of junior high school – any other friends?

It took an entire childhood of bullying and teenage years of misplaced trust, to learn to put up a strong facade to hide my weakness within. Then I met Sigismond, a senior. He was part of the drama club as well as in the Scripture Union, so we saw each other quite frequently. We soon became close and I felt safe to confide in him on all I was going through. He understood me and always gave me the warmest of hugs. He helped me with my homework and always gave the best compliments.

Time passed and our friendship grew stronger and much deeper. This was the first time I had experienced falling in love. It felt so good and I had not a care in the world. I told Sigismond once that I loved him as much as he loved car racing. He said that he felt the same way about me and wanted to kiss me all this while but he was shy. He urged me to join the Scout Troop since he was a patrol leader at the time and that he’d make sure I would be in his patrol and under his care.

boy-scoutsIsaac Bayoh belonged to the First Freetown Boy Scouts Troops of Sierra Leone.

What else can you tell me about your childhood…  any sports or Scouting?

I joined The First Freetown Boy Scouts Troop later that year. Most boys laughed at me and called me names and said things like ‘Too girly to be in Boy Scout’ and ‘The first female in The First Freetown Troop.’ Although I felt ostracized, Sigismond always managed to make me feel welcome and have others respect me.

During camping season all the boys would take a shower together after playing football or practicing our marching routine. I never took a shower with all the boys because I felt uncomfortable so I either showered before them or after them. They found this out and started spreading rumors that I had a vagina that’s why I was hiding from being naked around them.

One day we were all playing football. I didn’t like playing football (“soccer”) but I was forced to by my scout trooper to be a team player, so I did… When one of my teammates pulled down my shorts, forcefully pulled them off and started running around the field with them, I was left naked – running after him to get my shorts back while our troop watched, laughing. All the boys started shouting, ‘Oh, my God, he has a penis – the girl has a penis!’ I was so humiliated and all my Scout leader could say was that It was just a ‘boy’s game.’

I dropped out of boys scout the following year and my best friend Sigismond moved unto college along with the rest of the Rare Gems.

Isaac Bayoh - Other4 Isaac Bayoh’s beloved aunt was “snatched by the cold hands of Ebola.”
Photo: U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).

So, basically, you had lost your innocence completely before you graduated from junior high school? Isaac continued:

Yes, and it got worse… About this time Ebola began to spread through West Africa… In the beginning, there were rumors and jokes about it. No one ever took it seriously. Until people started to die, in front of us, horribly. Then, in the early days of the epidemic, we learned that if a neighborhood became infected, it would be quarantined – and most residents would simply die… Thank God our area was safe.

One evening Aunty sent me to run her bathwater and make her a cup of tea. She said she had been feeling nauseous and her skin looked grey. I was concerned but she assured me she was fine. I went upstairs to give her the tea I had made. There, laid bare in bed with blood oozing out of every orifice of her body, was my beloved Aunty. Sheets blotched with crimson stains and little puddles of blood around the bed. My airways clung shut, my knees buckled as I fell hard to the ground. My body became limp. Everything seemed out of reach and for a split second, I felt a groaning pain in my stomach. I could not walk, I crawled, I threw myself down the stairs but felt no pain, I reached for the door and my hand slipped.

I clung to the doorknob managing to pull myself up, I failed. I laid there breathless, cries escaping from my dried lips, my mouth hung dry as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room and my only chance at survival was to get to the other side of that door. I wrapped my shirt on the doorknob and swung it open. The gush of dust blown air pelted my face as I dragged myself outside. Each step heavier than the last. I could not tell the neighbors. What could I have possibly had to say? I lost my sense of speech.

If I had told the neighbors, somebody was bound to call the Ebola quarantine team and I would have had myself locked up for God-knows-how-long. If I did not have Ebola I sure knew I would have gotten it then. I walked away slowly, still sweating, silent groans escaping my lips as I fought hard to withhold the tears gushing from my eyes. I walked for so long I did not realize I had only one slipper on my feet. I noticed people looking at me weirdly as if I had escaped from a psychiatric ward. No one stopped to ask if I was okay. I found myself at the junction of Pademba Road, I had walked three miles. The bus station was across the street. Where was I going to go? Why did my feet bring me here? My only saving grace was now dead. Snatched by the cold hands of Ebola.

I swallowed hard and got on the bus – back to my home village to find my mother.

Isaac Bayoh - Other3 Photo: U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).

What happened then?

My mother welcomed me back warmly, with tears, sobbing to hear about her sister’s death and thankful I was alive. I could tell she was not well and she told me I could not stay in the village. Now that I was older, she told me the real reason I had been sent to live with Aunty…

Before I had left for junior high school, my mother had learned the village men wanted to put me in the ‘Poro Society,’ a society where they castrate boys like me who failed to live up to the traditions of manhood (see description in Editors Notes at bottom). My mother could not handle it and such was the real reason I was sent off to live with Auntie.

My mother was seemingly sick not with Ebola, Thank God, but with typhoid and malaria. There was no clinic in the village and the native herbalist was the only one we could depend on. But he needed to be paid and I had no money. I asked all around the village for help and no one cared. Two malicious village men asked me for sex in return for helping my sick mother. I had no choice but to sell all my clothes to buy her medication and get her to a nearby public hospital.

I could no longer go to school and simply tried to care for my mother. I maneuvered ways to find more money to provide for our daily needs. It came to a point where I had to begin to bathe my mother and seeing her sick and naked made me weep. Bitterly, she cried along with me. I felt the pain in her heart for she did not want her son doing this, but I had to. It was the only way to keep Mama clean and from smelling. It took her some time to get well, but eventually she did.

During all this the local men saw me and called the Poro chief to catch and castrate me. I had to leave my mother, leave the village, and get back to the capital where I could hide. There, I lived in fear of dying from Ebola or be captured and neutered in the Poro Society. This was ‘Tradition’ and no one, not even my beloved mother, could help me.

Isaac Bayoh10
Outside the United Nations in New York where today Isaac represents youth 
on behalf of the J. Luce Foundation. Photo: The Stewardship Report.

Okay, so you are now alone in the city, not in high school, with both disease and haters stalking you… I cannot even imagine how you have survived so far. Then what?

My battle scars are embedded in my skin from the wars I fought then… It took lies and lies and more lies, from a culture so full of hate, a people chained down by mental slavery, until I lied to myself so much that I forgot my own truth. A truth I knew for sure that I was different and ordained in all ways. I was born into a tradition but not of it.

It took forgetting my own truth and painting a mental picture of someone I would never want to be that unleashed my determination, to make the ultimate decision that I was going to make the rest of my life the best of my life.

I had a vision for my life that was greater than my imagination could hold, proving from within that I could be more than what I saw; I was going to break the shackles of tradition with one dream and a burning heart, to see my people empowered – setting them free from mental slavery and awakening them to the power of love and acceptance. I was tired of seeing my people live hell on Earth. I determined to leave for New York City in the United States of America.

Isaac Bayoh - Other6A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer processes an incoming passenger.
Photo: James Tourtellotte.

So, this is 2014, right?

Yes, July 2014. Considering the predestination of my life, I managed somehow to go back to school. I engaged in various school activities and was persistent in finding opportunities by which to experience the world.

Time passed as I gained a fighting chance, although life proved strenuous as Ebola plagued my country – Sierra Leone. I managed to get a tourist visa and sell the remainder of my Auntie’s boutique to pay for my ticket to America. I had one friend there who I had met through my Auntie, who ran Sierra Leone Fashion Week. She lived in America and came to Sierra Leone to check on her business and host the annual Fashion show.

I had confided in her before that I was gay since she was from America and she was accepting of me. She arranged a place for me to stay when I got to America since she was still in Sierra Leone at the time. Not able to say goodbye to my mother, I left for the U.S. I left behind everything – the mother I loved, the friends I cared for, and the life I hated as I fled to America. I was not going to limit myself to the tried-and-true. I was creating a new vision for my life; the way I wanted to see it and finding ways to achieve it.

I arrived at JFK airport in New York with a suitcase and a duffel bag. I was helped by a friend of my Auntie’s friend who was my saving grace. I was able to contact my mother and tell her I was now in America. She cried as she had thought I was killed in the Poro Society. She had even mourned my death. She was so happy I was alive and well…

I applied and was granted U.S. Temporary Protected Status under President Obama that allowed me to work and go to school. I started high school with the help of my Auntie’s friend in New Jersey and got a part-time job. A new chapter of hope began. My grades improved dramatically as I got A’s and B’s in all my subjects. This was finally the real me. I was proud of the person I was becoming. As I immersed myself in schoolwork, I did better as a person and I related well to my teachers and made new friends.

I came out to all the friends I made because I was no longer going to live the rest of my life in fear of being killed or ridiculed. It was as if I was holding my breath for all these years and now I could finally exhale. This light that shines was not placed inside of me, I had to take my own chip from the Sun. I was a child trying to find my way and I learned that it took creating reasons to be alive.

Isaac Bayoh04Isaac Bayoh graduated in 2016 from Roxbury High School in New Jersey
with a G.P.A. of 3.6. Photo courtesy of Isaac Bayoh.

Well, this seems to have been the opening chapter in your Book of Life and I am sure you will write so many more. Are there any highlights of your life now you can share?

I attended Roxbury High School with a G.P.A. of 3.6 where I became vice president for The Future Business Leaders of America association, was awarded “Business Student of the Year in 2016,” was a section leader of the choral program and lead soloist in the Port Morris United Methodist Church. I wrote and published an essay entitled “Tears of My People” in the literary magazine. What made me the most fulfilled, however, was founding a non-profit organization called Girl Optimization to aid women and orphaned children back home in Sierra Leone.

After graduation from high school, I accepted a scholarship to study foreign policy and corporate management technology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. I was accepted into their Leadership Fellows Program for high achieving students, which offered me an additional scholarship.

As you know, I later got a Young Global Leadership scholarship through your foundation. I moved to New York, staying in Brooklyn, and began an internship with the J. Luce Foundation. So many possibilities opened up for me… I was introduced to Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely who works with the United Nations. I got to support her organization, The New Future Foundation, that gave me a platform to work with the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs and advocate for women’s rights and the rights of those whose sexual and gender orientation is not accepted by the cultural majority in my country.

Isaac Bayoh01Isaac was accepted into the Leadership Fellows Program at Eastern University
in Pennsylvania to study foreign policy and corporate management technology.
Photo courtesy of Isaac Bayoh.

So, Isaac, what do you think now is your purpose here in the United States?

I chose to come to the United States for three reasons. The main factor would be to experience a better life where I could live free from persecution and the fear of being killed. The second would be to get a better education where I could enter a career which would position me to help those in similar situations that I’ve gone through here in the U.S., back home in Sierra Leone and everyone else around the world. My third reason would be to give my mother and sister a chance at a better life. A life where they have a voice and not silenced by the norms of traditions. A life where they can also know the true meaning of freedom, love and the pursuit of happiness.

I have learned that it takes creating reasons to be alive. As I experience life, my beliefs and convictions have changed from what I knew as a boy. Life has taught me to question myself to what I know is my truth; for if I am to be admired, I want my outward appearance to accurately reflect my inner character.

Learning to trust my struggle is a reminder for me to constantly be willing to improve myself if I want to improve my circumstances. Faith plays a main role in my struggle. I don’t believe in competing for what I want. I now believe in creating what I want; by bringing it to reality through motivation and changing that motivation into a habit to get to where I am going; seeking the power to improve the lives of many out there, through the diligence of my hard work and most of all, because of the faith others have in me. I am never too much and I am always enough.

I came to the U.S., like every immigrant, to create my American Dream and get a chance at doing better – that is the main reason why I am here. To do better for myself, my mother, my sister, and those around me who deserve a chance at a better life. Those who deserve to be heard, and those who deserve to live free of persecution in Sierra Leone for being themselves.

I recently told my sister I was gay and, well, she wasn’t surprised but it sort of reduced her communication with me. She warned me not to tell my mum as that ‘would be the death of her.’ I look back and think of Aunty whom I lost by the cold hands of Ebola. She was the only one who knew that I was gay and loved me unconditionally. She was the only saving grace I had in Sierra Leone. She supported me in everything and would not have wanted me to give up. She was so helpful to those around her even if it meant her going hungry. She set the pace for me and would have wanted me to do likewise.

That is why I am in America. I have a better chance at helping boys and girls like me around the world than I do in Sierra Leone where I am unsafe. I have a better chance to blossom and succeed here where I am not being beaten and jailed for being gay. I have a better chance to study foreign policy and corporate management technology here where I can eventually take a ministerial position and help change the laws that govern the rights of freedom and homosexuality in Sierra Leone and help those who have been physically and psychologically abused for being themselves find a space to freedom. Like India has changed, my country must change as well…

I have a better chance to inspire the youth in my country to the possibilities of technology, coding and access to boundless information that will empower them to be the change they want to see happen in Sierra Leone. I have a better chance of being paid generously which I plan to use to further my organization – Girl Optimization in changing the lives of people in Africa.

I am not in America to decay away. I am not here for the finer things in life. I am here to create endless possibilities for boys and girls like me who depend on my success and advocacy. I am here to put myself in a better position financially, emotionally, and educationally. To help them gain freedom and become the leaders of tomorrow and the only way this can happen is if I stay.

E464D91E-F995-4424-8E07-716810B4DF21-e1529429367328Isaac Bayoh (2nd from right) with the J. Luce Foundation Young Global Leadership
Initiative visiting the New York State Caprila in Albany as guests of New York State
Senators Rebecca Seawright and Danny O’Donnell. 
Photo: The Stewardship Report.

What lessons have you learned through all of these experiences, through these many ordeals?

These experiences have been an awakening. I learned to create the life I wanted to see for myself by trusting my authentic self without any filters and having faith to stand in the possibility of being more resilient. Aimless no more, my purpose has been made clear to me; to use the experiences I’ve had as a catalyst for positive change on a global level. I am now a Young Global Leader to the United Nations and I stand strong for female empowerment and human rights. I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.

Going back to Sierra Leone would be the death of me. I say this because It would be a death sentence as I have lost my aunt Christiana the only one who shielded me from harm and was the source of my being alive as a gay kid in Sierra Leone and was my protector.

If I were to step my foot in Sierra Leone I am assured that I would be returning back to my mother’s house (which is the only place I could stay) in the village where my uncle will surely catch and put me through Poro where I risk being castrated and the possibility of losing my life.

Socially I would be beaten up and wounded and no one would care. In a country where religion, tradition, and politics go hand in hand it would be justified by the book of Leviticus and the norms of tradition.

On a larger scale, I would face indefinite jail time as my videos of me speaking and advocating for gay rights and gender equality at the United Nations has been shared on all social media platforms and I am in no good relationship with those who are against. I have no clue to what I will be walking into if I were to be sent back. Going back to Sierra Leone would be a death sentence.

My prayer is that God uses my life as an instrument for good. My life is a message to the world. telling others to be bold enough to use their voice, brave enough to use their hearts, and strong enough to live the life they have always imagined.

For the foregoing reasons, I believe I would not be safe if I were forced to return to Sierra Leone.

17966469_1879587988733391_8452231991261223297_o (4)HIV & AIDS educator, activist and human rights defender-in-exile Ghislain Joël
Nkontchou received the 2017  J. Luce Foundation Honorable Mention for his work
work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in his native country
of Cameroon, Central Africa where he was forced to confront homophobia and
eventually flee into exile to the United States. Photo courtesy: AnnieWatt.com.

Like Ghislain Joël Nkontchou, who we awarded Honorable Mention for his work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in his native country of Cameroon, we are pleased to announce the J. Luce Foundation Honorable Mention Award 2018 will be given to Isaac Sheku Bayoh for founding the non-profit organization Girl Optimization to aid women and orphaned children in his home country Sierra Leone which he honors through his efforts.

Additionally, we honor Isaac Sheku Bayoh as a young global leader of our foundation, as our youth representative to the United Nations, for his volunteer work there and with our Young Global Leadership Initiative, and for his dedication to Lions Club International through service as vice president of the New York Global Leaders Leos Club.

Isaac Sheku Bayoh, born gay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa, now 21 years of age, walks proud as a man of men, embodying the characteristics of honor, intelligence, benevolence and integrity. Truly, a giant walks among us and we are enormously proud to call him our friend.

Isaac Bayoh02The J. Luce Foundation Honorable Mention Award 2018 will be given to
Isaac Bayoh for founding the non-profit organization Girl Optimization
to aid women and orphaned children in his home country Sierra Leone
which he honors through his efforts. Photo: courtesy of Isaac Bayoh.

Editor’s Notes

Isaac Sheku Bayoh is applying for asylum to the United States Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Office.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of 17 goals every nation has agreed to that include quality education, gender equality, reducing inequalities, as well as peace and justice.

The Poro Society, Wikipedia states, is a men’s secret society found in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, introduced by the Mande people. It is sometimes referred to as a hunting society and only males are admitted to its ranks. There are both religious and civil aspects of the Poro. Under the former, boys join it at puberty in a rite of passage. Under its civil aspects, the society serves as a kind of native governing body. One of the social functions of secret societies like the Poro is to deter antisocial behavior or beliefs. The Poro society has its own special rituals and language, tattooing and symbols. Details are scarce, due to an oath of secrecy.

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

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Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.