Our guest today is Bisi Alimi, the Executive Director of SafePlace Greece, founder of the Bisi Alimi Foundation, and known as an angelic troublemaker. In this episode, we talked about his extraordinary journey as a gay Nigerian man, his powerful advocacy for HIV and LGBTQ+ rights, and refugees, and how to use anger as a tool to make the world a better place.
Bisi’s Early Years
“The lifestyle that I grew up in prepared me for the madness of the war that I was going into.”
Bisi grew up in Lagos, Nigeria in a very poor and dangerous neighborhood. He realised from a young age that he was attracted to men, however, it was against the law in Nigeria. He describes himself as a very rebellious young man.
Bisi always wanted to be an actor and to be in the spotlight, but his community made him feel ashamed for wanting to feel in the spotlight or being the center of attention.
How Bisi Transformed His Anger Into Being A Force For Good
“One of the beautiful ways that I've been using my anger is to start initiatives.”
When Bisi was young, he was angry a lot of the time. He couldn’t deal with his anger and it made his life hard in many ways.
Over time he learned how to use his anger for good. He has used his anger as an impulse and energy to start initiatives. When he is feeling anger about things like racism, homophobia, sexism, the refugee crisis, or climate change, he looks for ways to do something about them.
LGBTQ+ and HIV Advocacy
“I was learning how much devastation HIV caused to our community in Nigeria, and how many young, gay men were just dropping down and dying like autumn leaves, and nobody cared.”
Bisi became an HIV activist when one of his best friends died from AIDS. Before his friend passed away, they had a soul-searching conversation, and Bissi promised him that he will do something about the horrible AIDS epidemic that devastated Nigeria.
Bisi joined an HIV organization, and this journey led him to eventually come out on national television in 2004, which has never happened before in Nigeria. The backlash ended his acting career and forced him to leave his own country and seek refuge in the UK.
Bisi subsequently founded the Bisi Alimi Foundation that works towards a Nigeria where everyone is equal irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I kept looking at those little children, just seeing what they had to go through.”
Bisi came to the UK as a refugee a few years after he came out on national television in Nigeria. He encourages everyone to read about the refugee crisis, or go to Greece, France, or Turkey, and see the sad reality. He has recently been appointed as executive director of SafePlace Greece, which supports refugees. This is a rare example as refugee organisations are hardly ever led by refugees.
Bisi doesn’t like using the word “help” in his organisation, as he thinks, that refugees don’t need help, they just need support and someone to hold space for them. Ultimately, nobody can be helped, everybody has to help themselves, and be a good example for others.
Palma’s Reflection On Making A Difference
Bisi’s story powerfully illustrates that everyone can make a difference, and you also have the power to make change happen. No action is ever too small.
This week, we invite you to reflect on what are the causes that are really dear to your heart, where you would like to see a change in the world, and where you could make a contribution?
Try to do some research about organisations who are already doing what you would like to do, or maybe even create an organisation by yourself.
Just see if there is any cause that you're passionate about that really touches you, that you really care about, or are even really angry about, where you could use your anger and transform it to helping to alleviate that situation.
About Our Guest, Bisi Alimi
Bisi is an Angelic Troublemaker. He is a very passionate storyteller and public speaker who tells stories from a very personal place as a means to inspire. Bisi Alimi currently serves as the Executive Director of Safe Place Greece. He is coming to SPG with over 15 years of experience in International Development, most of which has been spent in HIV and LGBTQ+ advocacy both in Nigeria his birth country, and the United Kingdom his home country.
Alimi’s passion for LGBTQ+ rights is personal. As a budding actor, Alimi came out on national television in Nigeria in 2004, making him the first gay man to do so.
The incident ended his acting career and led to him fleeing Nigeria to seek refuge in the UK.
As the executive director of SPG, Bisi Alimi is one of very few refugees in the world to head a refugee organization.
Alimi is a passionate social impact geek. He has set up multiple organizations including The Initial for Equal Rights in Nigeria, which is Nigeria’s biggest LGBT organization. He was also a founding member of the Kaleidoscope Trust in the UK, and the founder and Executive Director of the Bisi Alimi Foundation.
A special thanks to Bisi Alimi for taking the time to share his inspiring story with us.
Continue Your Journey
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