Edafe Okporo, a Nigerian refugee, opens first full-time asylum in New York.
The path that launches a man to limelight oftentimes get triggered by a variety of factors, some pleasant and some ugly.
For Edafe Okporo, the path to his was on the heels of an ugly experience he had while on the mandatory youth service in Nigeria after his university graduation.
Being gay is a phenomenon that to a large extent does not sit well in Nigeria, with a law in place prohibiting same-Sex Marriage, and for which offenders are liable to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
For being gay, and particularly for being a vocal proponent of the dignity of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community, already silenced by the threat of violence and legislative instruments, Okporo face numerous threats to his life, but he did not seem fazed by the threat to his freedom and life. His advocacy was even recognized in 2016 when he received the Omololu Falobi award for his contribution to Public Health and Equality for raising awareness about HIV/AIDS among LGBTQ Nigerians and getting help to them.
But with every progress he seemed to make, Edafe Okporo was met with fierce resistance.
Okporo was accosted in a small community with no electricity by four men who beat him into a pulp and left him on the road at the mercy of drivers. “This will teach him a very good lesson, bloody faggot,” Okporo heard one of the men say, as they left him to die. But if he survived to tell his story, recounting the incident, Okporo said, “I was not afraid because I thought, I have met my doom. This would be the last day my parents would see me, my family who was happy that the last child had broken the curse [of finishing college] and was going for NYSC All hope of my family having a child with a college degree had been lost because of my identity”.
In 2017, the community where he lived came calling for his execution, and that was when he fled to the US, supposedly for an International LGBTQ Leaders Conference but Okporo refused to return to Nigeria, rather seeking refuge and yearning to breathe free.
However, Okporo realized another set and category of problems in the US and was taken to the Elizabeth Detention Center while his case for asylum was heard – an experience he recounts as depressing.
“I got alone. Lonely. …I’ve never been in that kind of isolation before. You are instructed on what to do and what not to do. And they are giving you food to eat, whether you like it or not, you just do it,” Okporo disclosed. Luckily, for Edafe Okporo, Immigration Equality, an LGBTQ rights non-profit that saw to the aspirations of LGBTQ asylum-seekers, helped him to succeed after five months.
But after finding his feet in the US, Okporo, committed to help others like himself in New York City, has opened the city’s first-ever full-time asylum shelter, hoping to make life easier for those who would find themselves in the predicament in which he was.
Most of the asylum seekers face a kind of rejection even from their community in New York. The shelter provides them that space to be themselves even in New York City, Edafe Okporo disclosed.
“Knowing that New York is one of the most liberal places in the world and people are still subjected to such kind of persecution just makes me wonder where else in the world can LGBTQ migrants be safe.”He added.
Today Edafe Okporo is thankful that for the atmosphere of freedom he enjoys in New York, which has enabled him to live his life without fear of being hounded, even though discrimination against LGBTQ people remains universal to a large extent.
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