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Nigerian LGBTQ+ refugee-turned-activist on importance of compassion
by Emily Reilly
2020-08-19

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Edafe Okporo came to the United States from Nigeria in 2016. Now, he's the founder of New York's first full-time LGBTQ+ refugee shelter. Along the way, he has gained insight to how one can make a difference in the world around them.

His new book, Compassion Is Worth More: Using Your Civil Power To Create Change, shows readers how to do just that—finding a voice to make a positive change in their communities.

"I wanted to give people a roadmap of how to create change in their communities," Okporo told Windy City Times. "Compassion Is Worth More is looking at what is making us change our viewpoints and how we can look more into our humanity to help people."

Okporo said his new book shows how a little bit of compassion can go a long way; even the small efforts have a greater, positive impact on the world. A point he focuses on is the damaging effects a polarized country can have. For example, many believe the United States is becoming a more and more divided country. Okporo can offer insight to the current situation, as he has lived in Nigeria where the political climate is polarized as well.

"I remember in Nigeria, the law that was passed that criminalized same-sex [relations] was based on religion," said Okporo. "In Nigeria, our polarity based on religion was hurting more people and I wanted to give people my experience so they understand that what we do as a country doesn't just only affect us as people who live in this country but affect people beyond our imagination."

Okporo explained that Nigeria is quite polarized through religion; the north is mainly Islamic and the south is mainly Christian. Through his lived experiences with this polarization, Okporo emphasized his belief that polarity causes much more harm than good to people. His own experiences with violence and discrimination were enough to make him feel unsafe and flee the country.

He described his experience arriving in New York City and how he didn't have a place to stay at first. He soon learned that he was not the only one facing this problem. Okporo's typical lens of advocacy was set aside as he discovered a new way to make a change, especially after discovering a problem with LGBTQ+ refugee housing.

"I used to fight for LGBTQ+ people to have access to HIV treatment in Nigeria—but HIV is not as big of an issue in America compared to Nigeria," said Okporo. "Another area of my life that was being affected by the policies I was currently living with was immigration. Most LGBTQ+ people, when they come to the [United States] to seek protection, before they're able to access housing, there is housing if you have HIV or AIDS. Some of them end up having sex with somebody else just to have a place to sleep in. Some people even told me that if I had HIV, my life would be made easier."

Thus began Okporo's advocacy journey in this country. He saw an occurrence among the homeless LGBTQ+ community and began speaking to HIV/AIDS activists in New York to help protect those who are HIV-positive and those who are not. Okporo was able to make a positive change in his community; the RDJ Refugee Shelter in New York was the result of his advocacy.

"Humans do not like inequality—we want an equitable world. But in order for us to create an equitable world, we ourselves have to understand what equity is," Okporo said. "So, for you to be a change-maker in your community, it starts with you understanding the role you have to play in the world as an individual."

Okporo emphasized the importance of putting aside differences in order to make change and have a positive effect in society and that helping one another should not be a political issue.

"I believe that coming together with our common, shared values is the only way we can sustainably create change as a people," he said. "Now is the time for us to come together on a common shared purpose and if we cannot do that then the democracy we try to protect as a country might not be sustainable."

Compassion Is Worth More: Using Your Civil Power To Create Change is available for purchase on Amazon.


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