As Edafe Okporo will probably be the first to admit, the vast difference between Delta State in Nigeria and New York does not lie only in the 5,000 miles that separate the two states, but also in what might get you killed in either.
In 2014, as an inductee into Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), a mandatory federal service program for college graduates, Okporo was accosted in “a small community with no electricity” by four men who beat him into a pulp – for being a gay Nigerian man.
A few years later, he recalled the incident:
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“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”.
Okporo’s assaulters left him by the road, perhaps to the mercy of a driver’s carelessness. But if he survived, “[T]his will teach him a very good lesson, bloody faggot,” Okporo heard one of the men say.
The assaulters wanted to get rid of a vocal proponent of the dignity of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community that has been silenced by the threat of violence and legislative instruments.
In the same year that he came close to losing his life, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Act (Prohibition) Act of 2013. Under this law, anyone who “performs, witnesses, aids, or abets” same-sex marriage is liable to conviction.
Those who exhibited anything describable as “same-sex amorous relationship” could go to prison for 10 years.
But Okporo 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, Okporo was met with fierce resistance.
In 2017, a community where he lived “was calling for my execution, so I had to flee”. He went to the United States for an International LGBTQ Leaders Conference but refused to return to Nigeria, rather seeking refuge and yearning to breathe free.
But he realized another set and category of problems in the US. He 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 told the VOA.
Luckily, for 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 has committed himself to help others like himself in New York City. He 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 them [asylum seeker] 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,” Okporo told NBC.
He added: “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.”
But although Okporo knows that discrimination against LGBTQ people is universal, he is appreciative of the atmosphere New York offers – something absent in quantity and quality in Delta State – for him to live his life in the open and to the fullest.