The party had just started when the gunshot pierced the music. Instantly the men scattered, knowing what it meant: a police raid.
They had gathered in a hotel in the northern Nigerian state of Bauchi, renting out almost a whole floor for a surprise birthday party. But in the minaret-dotted city, where sharia in theory requires gay men to be stoned to death, such stolen moments are fraught. Someone had tipped off the Hisbah – the religious police.
As officials stormed in on that night in 2007, John (not his real name) felt numb with fear. He ran to a room, switched off the lights and crawled under the bed. “They checked room by room. They opened the door and flashed a flashlight, but they thought it was empty.” They arrested 18 others.
A week later, John went to Friday prayers at the mosque. He prayed for 18 of his friends who faced sodomy charges in a sharia court. He prayed for their lawyer, who was forced to sneak into the first hearing via a side door as a mob threatened to stone him for defending “gay marriage”. He prayed for strength to do what he had decided to do next.
“That incident really gave us the courage to start doing something. Continue here.