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About Out and Proud
African LGBTI (OPAL)

In Out and Proud African LGBTI (OPAL), we offer wide-ranging support and refuge to African people who have fled persecution, torture and indefinite detention owing simply to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

At OPAL, we offer support and refuge to African people who have had to flee persecution, torture and indefinite detention because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the heart of our work lies the treasured tenet: Out and Proud, hence the name of our Group. We originate from various countries in which we have to live very discreetly/ secretly as LGBTI persons for the whole duration of our lives to avoid constant and ever visible persecution. OPAL is a social community where African LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees can feel safe and at peace, as well as become empowered to overcome the legacy of oppression they endured from their own families and communities. We journey with our members through a stressful asylum procedure and support them through the integration processes in the UK.

We advocate by challenging odious anti-gay laws in African countries and name and shame racists, homophobic pastors and politicians, and a system that aims to alienate them. We believe in a world where all human rights are respected, and where those who are persecuted for their sexuality/ gender identity are supported, and that everyone is made fully aware of their plight and every horror and disadvantage they are made to face through absolutely no fault of their own.

Our community HQ is based in London (UK) and consists of people from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Senegal, Namibia, the Netherlands and England. The common belief which unites us all is the fundamental necessity for the universal respect for human rights. We provide people with a vast spectrum of support, from maintaining a safe space to providing practical assistance things such as housing, connecting them with legal professionals, and with a range of other related challenges.

We do everything with the intention of building and creating a membership which is healthy, resilient, happy and more able to see the world from a positive perspective. Our members come to regard OPAL as their family in the UK, a place they can rely on, and a place where they can truly belong. This means a great deal when set against the backdrop of the constant marginalisation, persecution and isolation, which they typically face on a day to day basis. In the longer term, we aim to create a membership to become the mouthpiece of the voiceless, and to work towards creating a world where Human Rights are upheld and valued, as well as causing homophobes, biphobes and transphobes to rethink and unlearn years of entrenched hatred towards LGBTI people. We have replicated our work and advocacy in the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Sweden, where we work with other African LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees. We are now aiming to replicate our work throughout Europe.

The impact of our work is also recognised by European Diversity Awards which shortlisted us for the Charity of the Year on two separate occasions. Additionally, we have been shortlisted twice for the National Diversity Awards (NDA) for the Charity of the Year. In 2018, the NDA awarded Abbey Kiwanuka, a founding member, with the LGBT Role Model of the Year Award for his outstanding work with this LGBTI campaign. In 2015 NAZ also recognised Abbey Kiwanuka as the MSM of the Year. Also in 2015, the Independent on Sunday positioned Abbey a clear 25th out of 101 in their Rainbow List.


A group of African refugees and asylum seekers under the guidance of Abbey Kiwanuka founded OPAL in 2013. Abbey himself was profoundly affected by his own experience of Oakington Detention Centre here in the (UK). What he saw in the detention centre and the persecution of LGBTI people in African Countries inspired him in planting the seeds of OPAL.

The UK’s deportation of Queer asylum seekers back to the very countries that persecuted them on the pretext that they could avoid persecution by living discreetly, had a first-hand devastating effect on Abbey, grappling with the enduring question of how African LGBTIs could ever be able to fight the structural homophobia in the immigration system. Consequently, he began organising among other asylum seekers, focusing on both their rights to stay in the UK and also in naming and shaming
African countries which directly criminalise homosexuality. His belief is that when you unite, you are strong and unbreakable. It does not matter which African country one comes from as long as there is the unity of the same goal.

Having won his refugee status, Abbey started working with LGBTI asylum seekers at the Kent Refugee Help and COC Netherlands. He increasingly felt the need to start up a social group, whereby LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees could meet, relax together, have fun and experience the healing from terrible past incidents and memories.

OPAL began in Regent Park. It was born out of a wish for one refugee and five asylum seekers, desperate for a stable, safe space in which to gather, feel and experience freedom. With the support of street Peter Tatchell, the G-A-Y Saturday Social was found, where each week, they would go and talk, drink together, socialise happily, and play African music.

The community has grown to over 200 people, men and women from 8 different countries, (based in the UK, the Netherlands and France). All of whom find in OPAL a new family and a place of belonging, all of which help them in their search to find security and a more fulfilling meaning in their lives, thereby being much more skilled in navigating the many challenges they continuously face. As well as the practical support we offer, we continue to gather in parks ( allowing for the weather) and homes each week to share food, play music, share stories and enjoy each others’ company.


To generate an environment in which the freedom, rights and equality of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender and Intersex people are guaranteed and where this no form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.


Our mission is to support people who have survived persecution and human rights abuses to rebuild their lives in exile, through integrated programmes and casework assistance.

To ensure the preservation of human dignity, freedom and justice, and the promotion of equality for the LGBTI persons in Africa.

Key Information

Our Aims

We assist, and we advocate. In the longer term, we provide a much-needed voice for the voiceless and work towards creating a world where Human Rights are respected, making homophobia/ biphobia/ transphobia things of the past. Our core aims are as follows:

  • To assist people in dealing with physical challenges, navigating the asylum process and integration into the UK.
  • To raise awareness of the needs of refugees and asylum seekers who have survived persecution and human rights abuses.
  • To create an environment in which LGBTI people can “come out” as who and what they are, and live freely without any fear of persecution.
    To help integrate those who have fled from persecution
  • To provide counselling and guidance services by inviting barristers/solicitors and other experienced professionals to speak to and answer questions from LGBTI asylum seekers.

Core Values

Who We Are & What We Do

Out & Proud African LGBTI (OPAL) is a charity for African LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, with chapters in France, Uganda, Belgium, Sweden, and the Netherlands. We offer support and refuge to African LGBTIQ+ people who have had to flee persecution, torture and indefinite detention because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the heart of our work lies the treasured tenet: being Out and Proud — hence the name of our Group. We originate from various countries in which we had to live very discreetly, or even secretly, as LGBTI persons throughout our lives to avoid constant and ever present, impending persecution.  We are a community group in which African LGBTIQ asylum-seekers and refugees can feel safe, at peace and empowered to overcome legacies of oppression by their own families and communities. We journey with our members through stressful asylum procedures and support them through integration processes in the UK.

Our community members meet weekly on Saturday afternoons at 55 Dean Street in Soho in London’s West End, where we hold meetings, workshops, and seminars. We also socialise every Saturday evening at the G-A-Y pub close by. This is where members meet to know each other, dance, drink and have fun. We also hold podcast sessions twice a month in our studio/office at 198 Railton Road Contemporary Arts and Learning in Brixton/Herne Hill. We run retreats in the English countryside, in Amsterdam and in Paris. In addition, we organise boat cruise parties, beach parties, summer parties and house parties. We provide casework support for members of the community who need help with housing problems, the asylum process, education and legal aid, training and health-related issues.

Our members

We work with more than sixty members from different parts of Africa, without prejudice as regards immigration status or national origin. When people join our group, they join a new family. They become an integral part of us, participating and helping grow our community. We do not welcome people who join us to boost their asylum claims or come to us with the explicit intention that we help them in their asylum procedures. Members of our community participate and engage in communal activities irrespective of their immigration status. This approach to creating a pan-African diasporic community helps us to exclude those with ulterior motives. If we find out that a participating member is not genuine in their intentions, we do not hesitate to withdraw our support and terminate membership. We explain this to each member before they join our group; our group is a community.

Our members have typically endured persecution or cruel and degrading treatment at the hands of state-sponsored officials and non-state actors, including religious and cultural leaders, media and politicians. Many of our members fled their home countries after surviving attacks by state authorities and vigilante groups. We also have members who have also survived trafficking, and experienced prolonged abuse and rape. Our work addresses the complex range of problems commonly experienced by asylum seekers and refugees in a foreign country where they know barely anyone, and we have developed a community modelled on relations of sisters and brothers sharing support. We are not a group for someone to stop, shop for help, and then go.

We document our meetings and social activities in photographs and videos. All our members consent to this by filling out our membership form, also consenting that photographs and videos we take remain the group’s property. We do not therefore require recurrent grants of consent to use such images and videos taken during each meeting or social engagement. We make it clear that we may share such photographs and videos on our social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook or on websites.

Our community focus

OPAL is a community for everyone involved, members, staff and volunteers. This underlying principle is important to us: whatever our life experiences and our differences, all human beings are united by our need for love and belonging, our struggles and our experiences of loss. Each person has a different role of course, for example caseworker, researcher, or member, but what we have in common overrides our differences.  We strive to relate to our members first and foremost as human beings. We believe that to be recognised and treated with dignity, kindness and courtesy is crucial to healing. We witness the depth of pain people have experienced, but we also appreciate the importance of humour, playfulness and a light touch.  We respond to each other’s and to each individual’s needs holistically. Casework teams work closely to support members as they try to move forward with their lives. Moving forward with life does not necessarily mean leaving our community. On the contrary, we believe those who progress in their lives can still be part of our community by helping those who are still in their struggle, or by supporting the group as a whole to move forward. This is our aspiration.

Our social events are at the heart of our work. Our safe space at 198 Railton Road is a space to talk, record podcasts and space for therapy – a place to cultivate, contemplate and share a meal and some company. But, perhaps most importantly, it is a space simply to be. Supporting our members to move from a place where life feels as though it is already ‘finished’, to one in which hope and a new life becomes possible is at the heart of what we do.

Our team 

Our programme staff team, all part-time, currently consists of volunteers – who support all aspects of the charity and a team of dedicated trustees.

Referral process – next steps Referral form and assessments 

To make a referral to OPAL, please download and complete our referral on our website, and to send the forms to our administrator at We aim to respond to you within a week, and to see people who have been referred to us for assessments within two weeks. When we receive a referral, a decision is made by the team as to whether the person referred meets our criteria set out in our referral form. If they do, a team member meets with the person referred either face-to-face or online for an assessment. If s/he does not seem to meet those criteria, the referrer is informed, and we suggest other associations that may be able to help.  Our assessments normally consist of two hourly sessions over a couple of weeks. This gives a potential member and ourselves an opportunity to decide whether OPAL can help her or him, and to discuss the benefits and challenges of the potential member’s commitment to group and community work.


We assign caseworkers to new members to support with practical challenges and develop educational opportunities. It is important to stress that, although we try to assist our members wherever possible with casework issues, including housing needs, identifying appropriate legal advisors and welfare-related issues, the heart of our work involves providing a safe space community for our members to start to express who they want to be. If they are not open our their emotional orientation, or want to participate in anything they could not do in their home country, we open the door for them and start to build a meaningful life in exile.

Group social 

After completing the individual registration, we expect all new members to join and regularly attend one of our support groups, which runs weekly on Saturday from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm at 56 Dean Street or our social group in G-A-Y pub in Soho from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

Support reports and letters 

OPAL sometimes provides reports for members concerning their immigration cases. However, we cannot provide reports independently of full participation in our programme. We cannot accept referrals purely for the production of statements supporting asylum claims.

Financial and digital support 

We can contribute to travel costs towards peoples’ travel to our meetings or social events. We can also support digital access to our online groups, including providing a laptop and internet data when this is needed.