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.
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.
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 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 websitewww.africanlgbti.org, and to send the forms to our administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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.