Outrage trails online display of wedding photos
Like wild fire in harmattan, the news of their marriage, which was intended not to be publicised, spread on social media, drawing scathing views from online commentators. Eric Shoen, the New York based-photographer, fund raiser and blogger, has now come out with details of marriage to his Nigerian gay partner, David Umukoro Ukre, from Delta State.
Eric and David got married in a small wedding at TILT nightclub in Rochester, New York on July 30.
Eric felt particularly dejected because their vigilance to keep the wedding a secret failed. “We tried very carefully to make sure this wouldn’t happen. Guests were instructed not to take photos during the ceremony. We were very particular about who was invited. It was a sad added bonus that most of the guests from Nigeria cancelled just 24 hours before the ceremony. I felt lost. I still get a terrible feeling in my stomach just a week and a half later. I hate being helpless.”
Having failed to conceal the union and just smarting from the witheringly scornful reactions to the solemnisation of their union, he decided to give details of the ceremony and what followed to the Huffington Post.
“We had a small ceremony under the leaves of some great old trees on the lawn of an adorable little restaurant. My family and our closest friends joined us. Our vow exchange was only 30 minutes long. What followed was a day of love, laughter, joy, eating, sore feet, kids running circles around the yard, and family and friends celebrating our day together. We posted only a few photos to our Facebook pages and asked guests to not post photos or mention our marriage.
“That night, we went out dancing to a club with friends who stayed over. The next morning, we decided to take some friends with us on the first day of our honeymoon to see Niagara Falls. We were still enjoying every moment of calling each other husband, taking photos kissing in front of the falls, getting sprayed at the Cave of the Winds, and accepting well-wishing texts from family and friends.”
Eric painted a miserable picture of what happened when he woke up on Monday morning after the wedding to return the rental car used for the occasion. “When I returned, my husband was pacing and crying, distraught, pointing to his phone. Somehow, someone had either sold or given photos from our wedding and first dance to one of Nigeria’s notorious gossip bloggers, Linda Ikeji who chose to publish them on her blog. Whether to out David and make a mockery or to somehow use it as advocacy, no one knows. What we do know is that she had no permission from either of us to use our photos or story.
“My husband calls me “the fixer” for a reason. I felt like I might be able to fix this before it got out of control. I called my sister who is an attorney for advice. Given that the information was posted on an international site, there was little we could do. My friends at Google and Blog-spot, and attorneys who are friends of mine gave me the same unfortunate news,” he said
Noting the fruitless steps he took to get the blogger to pull down the report and the photographs, he said: “I did contact the blogger directly via email and asked that the photos of our wedding, of our trip with my family, photos of our groomsmen, and direct quotes from my Facebook page be removed. I quickly locked down the security on my Facebook which had been relatively open so that I could use it for advertising and sales. I never heard back from her.”
The news of his marriage to the Warri, Delta State-born Nigerian broke the internet. The reaction from the public was immediate and largely negative. “How could our tiny, personal wedding in Rochester mean so much to hateful people on the other side of the planet that they would find us on the internet so they could harass us?”, he wondered.
He noted that much of the disgust came from Eric’s home country, Nigeria, which neither recognises same-sex marriages nor civil unions for same-sex couples. “Homosexuality can land men up to 14 years in prison in Southern Nigeria and capital punishment for men in areas under Sharia Islamic Law. On January 18, 2007 the Federal Executive Council approved a law, Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006, prohibiting same sex marriages,” Eric said.
Recounting how frenetic he became over the publication of the wedding, Eric told the Huffington Post, “I worked as fast as I could asking bloggers to remove our photos and mention of us, but only one complied. By the end of the day, more than 150 sites had blogged about us. They were not saying anything overtly mean for the most part. The comments, on the other hand, mentioned the ‘end of times,’ beheading us if we came to Nigeria, asking God to rain down evil upon us, suggesting that we get anal cancer and die, calling us devils, and threatening us in various other vulgar ways. Some people commented positively, but they were in the minority.”
Seeing that nothing could be done to halt the spread of the news of their wedding on the internet, he had no other option than to tell David that at this point, there was little he could do. “At the same time, his phone and my phone started to heat up with Facebook messages from strangers condemning us for being gay. His phone started to ring continuously from unknown Nigerian phone numbers. I felt lost. I still get a terrible feeling in my stomach just a week and a half later. I hate being helpless.”
Their groomsmen were also not spared. They were accused of being gay. “One of them felt compelled to come out via social media after the pressure.
David’s family was harassed by neighbors and local hooligans. He hadn’t told his family we were getting married. They were not even aware he was gay. David’s sister called to make sure we knew that she knew and she supported us. She relayed that his mom was not admitting anything and continued to defend David to anyone who bothered her. His other siblings also messaged us to say that they were being harassed via telephone, in person, and social media.”
On why he decided to share their story, Eric said: “You see, I fell in love with an amazing Nigerian man. I knew it was illegal for him to be gay in his country. I knew it was illegal for his family to know he was gay and not report him. I never thought that my tiny little wedding in Rochester, New York to this man would go any further than between our close friends who were invited and maybe some of their friends.
“David was afraid to come out of the closet to his family for so many reasons, some of which I recognize in my own coming out story. Telling my parents was very frightening, painful and tough, but they support me now. I grew up here, where letting someone know you are gay was tough, not illegal. Some of David’s reasoning can only be understood by someone who grew up in Nigeria or a similar country where it is illegal to be gay.
“Why would this be such big news in Nigeria? I believe it is because the press still wants to vilify gay men and women. They want to show that the USA is a place that corrupts the morals of children and is a den of sin and iniquity. The current political election probably isn’t helping change that impression much. The mere thought of two men getting married is enough to incite vitriol from all corners of Nigeria, and other parts of the world still today.”
Prior to the wedding, Eric had shared the news on their Facebook pages. He wrote on his timeline: “I am struggling to focus on work as I think about seeing all of my friends and family joining us at the small wedding or that evening at Tilt nightclub. I’m feeling loved when I need it with all the crazy emotions from the current state of our country and world.”
On the morning of their wedding, an excited Eric also shared this: “How to start your wedding day: 1. Forget to grab a towel before showering and leave slippery wet footprints all over the house (made me giggle and good thing I’m the only one here) 2. Try on your tux and realize that you have your fiancés pants that will definitely not fit you. 3. Drive to hotel to switch pants and forget breakfast is in the oven. Return to house with crispy but edible breakfast. Embracing it all with love and laughter. Today will be amazing. I get to marry the most amazing man”
To demonstrate their commitment, they took each other’s surnames. David is now known as ‘David Shoen-Ukre’, while Eric has officially become ‘Eric Shoen-Ukre’.
Before the latest spotlight on Eric and David, the Nigerian LGBT community was championed by Bisi Alimi, a gay rights activist, public speaker, blog writer and HIV/LGBT advocate who gained international attention when he became the first Nigerian to come out of the closet on television.
He was followed by Nigerian brand expert and founder of the Orange Academy, Kenny Badmus, who first stunned the world by openly stating his HIV Positive status and later declaring that he is gay.