My name is Oliver Anene, and I am asking for your vote on November 8, 2016.
This year’s election is not only a time when you will decide the future of the United States of America, but also the future of numerous new Americans, residents, refugees, asylum seekers — all of whom have been categorized in plain terms as “immigrants” by Republican nominee Donald Trump.
I am a new American, and have lived in the U.S.A. for four years. I, like many other “immigrants,” fled our countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas, because they were unsafe for us for various reasons, including because of whom we prayed to, and whom we loved. It is the reality of the world we live in, where a person belonging to a social minority group cannot express themselves freely in many countries. I had to leave Nigeria in 2012 because it had become unsafe to live there as a gay man.
I was among the few who spoke up about LGBT rights for many years, and challenged stigma and discrimination from our government. Imagine being popular for, dare I say, the right reason but in the wrong country. Public harassments and death threats — I still get those today — were the order of the day. It did not deter me, as I knew I was speaking up for what was right. I have and continue to believe that it is only a matter of time before Nigerian religious and political leaders understand the economic and structural impact of their institutionalized homophobia, and hopefully repeal all of its appalling discriminatory laws for the betterment of the country. The politically-motivated witch hunt for Nigerians who do not fit its status quo of a machismo-sexist-hetero society has led to a mass exodus of resourceful people from the country.
I am grateful for the current U.S. immigration system — however imperfect — that offered me protection and a new home in the U.S.A., where I have devoted my time to improving health systems for the LGBT community. I am a taxpayer and own my own business Might I add, for the Trump supporters, that I am no “criminal,” save for being a gay man from Nigeria.
Immigration Equality and Brooklyn Community Pride Center’s LGBTQ New Americans Oral History Project intimates you with the struggles LGBT people face when we come to the U.S.A., the land of the free. Let us be clear, the journey to the U.S. is not an easy one. The borders are already closed and heavily protected. The U.S. embassies abroad do not just hand out visas. Each application is expensive, and applicants are vetted and scrutinized, with thousands of cases denied on a daily basis. Refugees have to live for months and years in precarious conditions at camps and asylees abandon their friends, families, homes… everything! Many of us have starved, bled, cried, swam, and fought to get here, because the U.S.A. offers security and opportunities to achieve our full potential as human beings.
Immigration policies have been at the center of the recent debates. Trump says “immigrants” are criminals, take your jobs, rape your children, spread terrorism, and “they will all be gone.” (As you read this, please think of how many “immigrants” you know that do not fit this definition.) So what does he propose? A police state that perpetuates institutionalized racism, mass deportation, religious discrimination, a blatant disregard for humanity by rejecting refugees… the list goes on. I think Americans know this is not the way to go. I also think many Americans agree change needs to happen, but Donald Trump is not the change they seek. So why does it seem like he might win this election? Who are you planning to vote for? What does voting your conscience mean?
Today I call the U.S.A. my home, but I am not yet allowed to vote to keep it so. Hundreds of thousands cannot vote either, and we are in limbo, worried that if Trump is elected, he will institute policies that will make us feel unsafe again. We need the U.S.A. to remain a safe haven for myself and many other lucky New Americans who have no other options.
This is why I am asking for your vote. We need a leader who can understand the complexities of the global immigration and refugee crisis, and what it means to be victims of these crises. We need a leader who can empathize with us on why we are here, appreciate our diversity and what we can contribute to this great country.
So when you go to the polling booth on November 8, remember the countless upstanding new Americans — my humble gay self included — and what Trump plans to do. Exercise your right not just because it’s the cool thing to do, but for our sake, please vote to keep him out of that office.