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Two Nigerian trans women find new hope after unjust prison sentences

Helen and Uchechi at their new salon. Their faces have been blurred to protect their identity.

In a remarkable turn of events, two Nigerian transgender women who endured a harrowing experience in Port Harcourt Prison after being accused of violating the law prohibiting same-sex intercourse have emerged with newfound hope and opportunities for a brighter future.

Helen and Uchechi, as they are pseudonymously known for their safety, saw their ordeal begin in April, when their hair salon was vandalized by community youths who identified the couple as transgender. Subsequently, Helen and Uchechi  were arrested under Section 217 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, which prohibits same-sex activities between men — a crime punishable by a seven-year prison sentence.

However, the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, through readers’  donations to its Project Not Alone, stepped in to offer support. Project Not Alone supports innocent imprisoned victims of African anti-homosexuality laws.

Legal proceedings followed, during which the young women entered a plea and paid a fine, resulting in a reduced sentence. The foundation provided crucial financial assistance, enabling the women to pay their fines and cover their essential needs, including food and medical bills.

Their incarceration lasted two months and two weeks, after which they were released on July 12. To ensure their safety and well-being, the Care & Dignity Foundation (CDF), a rural-based transgender group in Port Harcourt, provided them with temporary shelter at a safe house.

However, Helen’s post-release struggles, including health issues and thoughts of suicide, painted a bleak picture.

Logo of Project Not Alone (Illustration courtesy of Otávio Zani)

“I can’t endure this life of begging to survive. I don’t believe I deserve this,” she said, highlighting the immense challenges she faced.

Recognizing the ongoing difficulties, the St. Paul’s Foundation extended further support to Helen and Uchechi. The foundation not only provided financial assistance for their immediate welfare but also helped them set up a new salon, offering a glimmer of economic independence.

Although the two women find themselves temporarily homeless, staying at their new salon, their spirits remain high.

Helen and Uchechi are thankful for the support they’ve received, acknowledging the positive turn their lives have taken.

“I can’t believe, after everything that happened to us, we will ever get here. A new salon and a place to lay my head. I know things will surely get better. I am so happy and thankful for everything and the support I have received. God is really in control,” Uchechi said, encapsulating the resilience and optimism that have become integral to their journey.