Mahad Olad escaped from a ‘conversion therapy’ camp and fled to America.
When in America, Olad ended up in New York and began attending Ithaca College. And because of his escape, he won the Youth Courage Award from the Colin Higgins Foundation.
Part of the award is a $10,000 grant, and Olad has said that he plans on spending this on his education and to develop a project that will help highlight the experience of LGBTQ Africans.
Writing in the school’s paper, The Ithican, Olad revealed how he was brought to Kenya under the guise of a holiday. “When my mother invited me to come on a vacation to Kenya to visit our relatives, I thought it would be a good chance to spend some time together, reunite with family we hadn’t seen in awhile and explore East Africa,” he wrote. “Little did I know that my mother had other plans in store for me.
“I hail from an extremely conservative Muslim background, but over the past years, I have come to realize that I don’t consider myself Muslim anymore. Not only did I have to hide from my family that I am an atheist, but also that I am gay.
“We arrived in Kenya in late May 2017. The very first night there, my mother told me this would not be a summer vacation. She told me that I would not be returning to the U.S. at the end of the summer as planned.
“She asked me to withdraw from college so that I could be placed under the control of a group of sheiks whose goal would be to reform my religious beliefs and reorient my sexuality.
“Somehow, my family had found out my secret and had prepared this elaborate ruse to get me to Kenya.”
Olad continued writing, revealing that people in the camps were subject to “severe beatings, shackling, food deprivation and other cruel practices.” He added: “Those who fail to cooperate, make adequate progress or try to escape could possibly be killed.”
Olad then opened up about his escape, saying: “I made a call to Ex-Muslims of North America, an organization that supports people who have chosen to leave Islam. They quickly put me in touch with Executive Director Muhammad Syed, based in Washington, D.C.
“Mr. Syed reached out to the United States Embassy in Kenya to see if they could help me escape. I was told that if I could take a cab to the embassy they could shelter me and help me figure out how I could get back to the U.S.”
Olad then fled his hotel in the middle of night, before being flown back to the United States where accommodation away from his family was found for him.
He then spoke about the emotional impact that his family’s abandonment had on him, before turning to his future activism, saying: “As I work through all of this on a personal level, I know that I want to do everything I can to prevent this from happening to others like me.
“Gay conversion therapy is exceedingly abhorrent. While it can’t alter someone’s sexual orientation, it certainly can scar them for life.
“Suicide rates are extremely high for people forced into these conversion camps. I have been meeting with the State Department and others to discuss what can be done to stop this barbaric practice, which is sadly still prevalent in American society.
“Unlike conversion therapy in the U.S., the religious conversion camps in Africa aren’t commonly reported on or talked about; they operate in secrecy.
“The fact that homosexuality is still illegal in most of Africa makes these conversion camps even crueler. We don’t have exact numbers of how many young people are forced to go to these camps, but we know the numbers are growing,” he finished.