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.