By Clement Uwiringiyimana
KIGALI, Sept 23 (Openly) - Since the popular Rwandan gospel singer Albert Nabonibo came out as gay, he has been flooded with insults from fans, shunned by friends and asked to leave his job.
Yet despite the backlash, the 35-year-old does not regret his decision to go public about his sexuality in a recent interview with a Christian YouTube channel, hoping his stance would encourage others to also stop living a lie.
"The community in general is not happy with me ... People are insulting me everywhere, even on Facebook - but I don't care," Nabonibo, 35, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"I know some of my fans will go, but that will not deter me. I know that others will stay with me. My intention is to tell the truth."
Rwanda is one of a handful of African nations not to criminalise gay sex, but same-sex marriage is banned and LGBT+ rights groups in the largely conservative Christian nation say homophobic attitudes are widespread.
Sexual minorities face stigma and discrimination, from being ostracised by their families or abused by neighbours to being denied a job or housing.
Nabonibo, a well-known singer who has released eight gospel songs since 2012, said he had been inundated with hate on social media, with people telling him he was "cursed" and "sinful".
Nabonibo said some friends had stopped talking to him, while relatives were asking why he had come out.
Nabonibo said he was asked to resign from his job as a finance after the YouTube interview. The company said he was not meeting professional expectations.
Growing up in Gicumbi region of northern Rwanda, Nabonibo knew from early adolescence that he was gay but as a member of the Pentecostal church - which considers homosexuality a sin - he had struggled to reconcile his faith with his sexuality.
"Some church pastors say you can pray for anything, but I tried to control myself but there was no change," he said.
"The church, they will accept me or not - but what I am sure is that inside the church there are people like me."
Years of living a lie had taken their toll, he said, and he decided to come out despite knowing the response would be harsh.
But he also received support from some unexpected quarters.
Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda's state minister for foreign affairs, tweeted that the government would ensure Nabonido's rights were protected.
"All Rwandans are born and remain equal in rights and freedoms," he wrote.
Nabonibo has also received encouraging messages from the LGBT+ community and hoped he would give others living in the shadows the courage to fight the stigma and live their lives.
"They tell me that I am brave to have told the truth and have sent me messages telling me 'Albert, keep it up,'" he said.
"I am happy for what I did. I felt like I belonged nowhere before. But after coming out I feel okay. I am free in my mind."
(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana, Writing by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
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