Mahad Olad, a student at Ithaca College in New York, has been awarded a $10,000 prize for bravery following his narrow escape from a gay conversion therapy ordeal in Kenya. The 19 year-old student was invited to Kenya by his mother last summer for a family holiday but soon found out his family had other intentions. His family, who he describes as being “extremely conservative” had found out that he was gay and no longer a practising Muslim. His mother told Olad he would not be returning to the USA, but that he would stay in Kenya under the control of a group of sheikhs who would “reform” his religious beliefs and “reorient his sexuality”. The sheikhs stayed with Olad and his mother in the hotel on their first evening and Olad knew that in the morning he would be forced to go with them.
Olad was aware of the abusive techniques used in African gay conversion therapy and knew he had to formulate an escape. He told his university newspaper, The Ithacan, how the leaders in Somalian and Kenyan conversion camps “subject their captives to beatings, shackling, food deprivation and other cruel practices”. The programme usually involves a “rigorous Islamic curriculum”, and those who “fail to cooperate, make adequate progress or try to escape” could be killed.
That evening, Olad complied with his mother and excused himself for a walk. Once alone, he called the Ex-Muslims of North America, an organisation that offers assistance to those who face persecution for leaving Islam. The organisation quickly got in touch with the US Embassy in Kenya who collected him from his hotel and found him a safe place to stay for the night. The embassy funded his trip back to America.
In the US Olad found that his extended family had severed all means of communication with him. Speaking to the Ithacan, Olad said: “I don’t know if I will ever have a relationship with my family, but I am thankful that I am alive”.
Olad was awarded the $10,000 Youth Courage Award from the Collins Higgins Foundation. The foundation was established honour LGBT+ youth who have “endured overwhelming hardships, yet have handled themselves with the utmost grace and dignity”. Olad was one of four winners and has said that he will use the prize to further both his education and his activism.
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