Words: Thomas Stichbury
Bolu Okupe started the year with a bang when he shared a shirtless picture of himself carrying a Pride flag on Instagram with the loud and proud caption: “Yes I’m Gay AF.”
As the son of Doyin Okupe, a former top Nigerian presidential aide, who also happens to be staunchly homophobic, Bolu’s post quickly went viral.
It certainly didn’t escape Doyin’s attention, who tweeted: “I have been aware of this, his new orientation, for a while now. He knows that as a Christian and a witness for Christ (an Evangelist) I am vehemently opposed to homosexuality.”
Raised in Nigeria – where sexual acts between people of the same sex are illegal – but currently based in Paris, Bolu opens up about his viral moment and his father in the Attitude May issue, out now to download and to order globally.
“Honestly, [my sexuality] has never been a secret. People in my family, some of them already knew, it’s just I think that was the first time I publicly declared it like that, [with] obviously the Pride flag and the rainbow shorts,” he begins.
“I knew it, maybe, could create some buzz, but I never thought it would go as far as it did – I had some people sending me articles in Chinese!”
The bodybuilder and sometime fitness model was overwhelmed with messages; some were positive – “especially from younger Black gay Nigerians or Africans” – but most were abusive, even threatening. One online troll commented that, in Kenya, Bolu would “be a corpse.”
“I come from a hyper-religious culture where people, instead of sitting down and having conversations and trying to understand, their first instinct is to judge,” he explains.
“That guy on my post, that doesn’t affect me because, fortunately – and I don’t think everybody is able to put themselves in the public and take a lot of the stuff I’ve taken – I have a very thick skin.
Photography: Xavier Héraud
“When I see comments like that, it mostly makes me feel sad for them, because they are so lost and confused, trying to use religion to harm people… A lot of these people are fanatic lunatics, and they will certainly die on the wrong side of history.”
Moving on to his father, Doyin – who served as special assistant on media and publicity to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo – Bolu says that his response “didn’t shock or surprise” him.
He adds: “That opinion represents the overwhelming majority of Nigeria. All I can do is keep trying to spread my message and speak my truth.”
As for how their relationship currently stands, 27-year-old Bolu insists that there is no bad blood between them.
“We have had a conversation, we’ve talked it out, everything is good. There’ll never be any hate in my heart for anybody because no matter what anybody feels about anything, I can only live today the life I live because of him,” he maintains.
“I’m never going to let his opinions make me turn my back on him, or anybody else in my immediate family circle, but, yes, I will always speak up.”
Bolu – who reveals he is looking to launch The Black Foundation, to help young LGBT Nigerians and West Africans, aged 16 to 25 – doesn’t rule out the possibility of being able to change his dad’s views.
“I don’t think [pauses] – nothing is impossible,” he reflects. “Education is always the key to changing people’s minds on things; education and communication, explaining and detailing your experiences to them.”
“There are many people in my life who have been very homophobic, especially some girls who have been close friends. When I came out to some of these people, it really changed how they felt about the whole thing because now there’s somebody in their life who is close to them who’s gay.”
He continues: “If I’m able to convince those people to stop being homophobic, I honestly think anybody is able to be convinced and brought over to the rainbow side.”