The Gay Immigrant

In recent times, the LGBTQ+ community has obtained acceptance in many places of the world, thanks to those who decided to stand up and raise their voices seeking justice. Since the beginning, America has been a country where many people migrate to, looking for better opportunities. For those members of the LGBTQ+ community that are here because of homophobia, emigration has a deeper meaning. Being free to be their true self’s and being valid in society is what these people yearn for.

Like many other members of the LGBTQ+ community in this world, Okporo lived in constant distress. More than living, he was just surviving.

Refuge Edafe Okporo fled his country because of homophobia. In Nigeria, Okporo was persistently harassed by his community.  Gathering strength from his pain, Okporo decided to seek asylum in the United States. Arriving here he was put in a detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he had a traumatic experience. After months of mistreatment, Okporo was finally able to leave the detention center and move to New York City. Continuing with his new life in the US, Okporo focuses on advocating for other immigrants and members of the LGBTQ+ community. He wrote a memoir titled “Bed 26” where he tells his experience as an asylum seeker and a gay man. He now works as the director of a shelter for immigrants and homeless people at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and runs a podcast.

“This world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another.”

Ellen Page, actress and LGBTQ+ advocate.

Brian Carbajal, an immigrant from Peru and Jesse, an immigrant from Honduras first became friends because of their passion for drag. While getting to know each other better, they were able to identify more similarities between them.

While living in Peru, Carbajal was trapped in the closet. He had to be extra careful with his mannerisms and clothing choice. Only at night he was able to be truly himself, when he would hang out with his friends at a local gay club. He would attend this club to admire the drag queens, their makeup, outfits and fierce performances.

Drag was something that Carbajal always wanted to be a part of. But because of the excruciating homophobia Peruvian society suffers from, he never dared to do it. After taking the opportunity of moving to the United States, he was finally able to be fully himself without any subterfuge.

For Jesse and his family, staying in Honduras was not a viable option. They were force to move to New Jersey because of the violence the country has been suffering from for decades. Since young, Jesse felt like he wasn’t like the other boys. Coming out as gay to his conservative Latino family wasn’t a pleasant experience. Fortunately with time they were able to fully understand him. Similar to Carbajal’s experience, Jesse started going to gay nightclubs in New Jersey and fell in love with the art of drag. He started experimenting with makeup, wigs and dresses. Jesse found a creative outlet that brings him more joy than anything else.

When meeting each other, Carbajal and Jesse started a strong friendship right away. Their favorite part is to get together and dress up. They put on their makeup, padding, tights, dresses, wigs and high heels and share a happy moment. Reflection on their similarities, they are both thankful they took the decision of moving to the United States because here they are able to be fully themselves without being discriminated against. They both hope that their countries learn how to accept the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA): “homosexuality is punishable by death in 13 countries. In 17 countries, bans are in place to prohibit ‘propaganda’ interpreted as promoting LGBT communities or identities. 40 countries retain a ‘gay panic’ clause which enables people to use as a defense for committing crimes such as assault or murder that they were provoked because the person was gay, lesbian or bisexual”.

Approximately, a total of 70 countries fail to guarantee a safe life for their LGBTQ+ citizens. Those countries that have no specific laws for LGBTQ+ citizens, either to their aid or detriment, have a society that stigmatizes the LGBTQ+ community as worthy of contempt. Due to the instability these humans go through in their countries, many are forced to immigrate to other more accepting countries.

A study made by Dr. Gary Gates from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) estimates the number of LGBT-identified adult undocumented and documented immigrants and describes some of their characteristics.

“An estimated 900,000 adults in this country are LGBT immigrants.”

Dr. Gary Gates, expert in the demographic, geographic, and economic characteristics of the LGBTQ+ population.

The population of LGBT identifying individuals that are undocumented immigrants is more Hispanic, between the ages of 18 to 29 and male. The population of LGBT identifying individuals that are documented immigrants is more Asian/Pacific Islander, between the ages of 30-44 and male. This information helps to identify that indeed those members of the LGBTQ+ community that leave their countries and come here, are coming from those countries that does not accept them.

Edafe Okporo, Brian Carbajal and Jesse agree that emigration gave them a chance at living a life without judgement for being their true selves.

Summary: Adobe Spark

Entry by Daniela Vega

Television and Digital Media major, Montclair State University Class of 2019.

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