Around the world, the month of June signifies a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as an opportunity to bring awareness to the challenges that LGBTQ+ people face. Throughout June, we want to give a platform to the leadership stories of our alumni who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and who actively campaign in this field, celebrating the impact that they’ve had both at work and in society.
Dan gained recognition in the media after conversations of his coming out to his family went viral. Shortly after, he established Living Free UK which was born out of the struggles of LGBTQ+ individuals who are still battling with their sexualities and gender identities, especially in countries where it is illegal to live their truth.
Discovering his passion for inclusion and representation
Dan became the first Black President of the Student Union at Bournemouth University; however, this wasn’t the first time that he’s stepped into a leadership role with a mission to create positive change. His leadership journey began as a Head Boy in secondary school in Nigeria then as student representative at his university in Nigeria.
Dan realized that there was one thing in common to all of his leadership roles - his passion to create change, specifically around inclusion and representation.
When he came to Bournemouth, he noticed that the university was not as diverse as he thought, and he didn’t see anyone who looked like him in a leadership position in the Student Union. Dan said, “I wanted to stand to change that – even though I didn’t think I was going to win.”
Winning the election helped Dan to refuel his passion around diversity, inclusion and representation. But the leadership role also enabled Dan to progress in his personal development journey with regard to his sexuality. He said, “Having that leadership role made me realize that I had the platform to do something positive about all the things I’ve been passionate about, including working with the LGBTQ society and the African & Caribbean Society (ACS). It was a big opportunity for growth.”
Founding Living Free UK
Sharing why he began the platform, Dan noted, “I come from the school of thought that you can’t be what you can’t see. Being born and raised in Nigeria as a closeted gay man, moving to [the UK], and coming out a few years ago – that just changed my life. [When I came out] I received a lot of support but I also received a lot of backlash. It made me think, what more can I possibly do? How can I create something good out of this?” And so Dan started Living Free UK.
He continued, “One of the things I experienced when I came out, especially with my Mom, was responses such as ‘I thought being gay was a white thing’. Well, I'm not white: I'm Black and I'm gay. But I did understand where she was coming from; there is not enough representation of Black and African LGBTQ+ individuals. So I thought, what can I do to help my Mom understand that, actually, you can be African and gay? If I create this platform, then it is going to be easier for the next Daniel to come out.”
When Dan lost a close friend to suicide in 2018, he felt passionately about using his platform to help break the stigma around the topic of mental health in the Black community. He shared:
“Mental health in itself is still a taboo topic regardless of your race. But then when you start adding layers, like being Black, being LGBTQ [it becomes more complicated]. Something that my friend said which stuck with me was that people are encouraged to speak up about their mental health, but when they do speak up, what kind of reaction do they get?”
Dan used Living Free UK as a platform to raise awareness around African mental health. Their global LGBTQ+ hub creates a safe space for LGBTQ+ Africans and asylum seekers to come together every second Saturday of the month, to talk and openly share in a place where they don’t have to edit themselves. Dan also hosts his YouTube show ‘Living Free with Dan’ where he interviews prominent Black/African LGBTQ individuals to share their story of self-love and acceptance.
Overcoming challenges with self-love and resilience
Juggling a full time job, living as an openly gay Black man, and running an enterprise is not always easy, Dan admits. It comes with lots of challenges, and boundaries that he had to overcome. Dan added:
“The growth [of Living Free UK] has been amazing but I think a big obstacle for me was the fear of failure. You have this passion, and this idea in your head, but sometimes that inner voices that tells you it's not going to work, no one's going to listen. Having different identities, being Black and an immigrant and so on, it can make you feel like, the odds are against you by default. I think it's about taking a journey of self-love to overcome that and to say, ‘This is my passion. People are going to say what they're going to say, but it’s about reminding yourself of who you are and what truly drives you.’”
Online trolling, and securing funding are just a few of the many other obstacles Dan has faced while growing his platform. However, he said resilience is a key leadership skill that has helped him to move forward in his leadership journey.
He explained, “In order to overcome these obstacles, something I've really had to practice for myself and to learn about is resilience. I always try to see the positive in things and I always try to remind myself of why I started Living Free UK in the first place. Being resilient means that even though I've had many rejections with regards to support or funding, I know not to give up because that breakthrough might just be around the corner.”
Image courtesy Bill Knight