Gay Immigrant Recalls Tumultuous Escape From Nigeria

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08/20/2021

Uchechukwu Onwa, a gay immigrant from Nigeria, said he knew it was time to leave his home country when a group of men brutally raped his teenage friend for appearing “effeminate.” Months after the sexual assault, Onwa’s friend tested positive for HIV — and shortly after that he died by suicide. “Losing my friend in this kind of way really got to me,” Onwa, 29, of Flatbush, Brooklyn, said in a Zoom interview with Gay City News. “I was so scared and terrified because I was just thinking that the same people that did this to my friend will come for me.” Onwa, a coordinator at the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), an advocacy group assisting LGBTQ immigrants, said that incident was one of many that inspired him to get involved in social justice work. Onwa has witnessed the disparate impact of COVID-19 on queer detainees who have lost mental health support groups due to the pandemic — and he pointed to the death of former group member Faby Federick, a Black trans woman from Costa Rica, who died by suicide in March after being detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center.

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