Hi, my name is Michael Kwadjo (Qweh-joe) Kyei Boateng. I am a first-generation Ghanaian immigrant who feels like an expat of the world.
I was born in New York (shout out to the Bronx!) and raised by my mother. She would send me to live with family around the world while she worked a full-time job as a live-in nurse.
I’ve had the privilege of living in Ghana, England, the Netherlands, Brazil, Australia, and the United States. As an openly Queer African American who rose up from a low-income childhood, I have had several different experiences on how my identity relates to different countries, cities, and communities. Each place I’ve lived abroad has helped teach me something about my own identity and how I can find peace and support to thrive and just be.
I’ve enjoyed learning about all the amazing LGBTQ leaders such as Marsha P. Johnson, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, and more that have opened new frontiers for our community. In honor of Pride Month, I want to reflect on my expat experiences and share a bit so that my fellow LGBTQ community members can find new places around the world to explore and uncover the love and joy of being LGTBQ.
(*Disclaimer, the experiences and insights I plan to share are based on places I’ve lived or visited abroad. I still have a lot to learn about being Queer and the many intricate and intimate forms in which it shows itself. Also, to keep things simple: “Queer”, a term which has several roots and connotations, is how I identify currently. I use Queer predominately as a verb – for me, it means to radically disrupt systems and preconceived notions of gender, sex, and identity. I know, I know, a bit wordy, but truly the term is loaded. If you want to know more, I recommend reading, Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker or A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski.)
The purpose of this guide is to help future LGBTQ members find cities around the world where they can enjoy living and be themselves. Okay, let’s get started!
I’ve currently been living in Los Angeles for the past six years, which I find surprisingly a bit more conservative than LGBTQ communities in San Francisco, New York, Berlin, Rio, and Melbourne. From what I’ve gauged it’s due to the glitz and glam lifestyle of being gay but not too gaaaaaay. Nonetheless, I still love Los Angeles, it makes me work to find beautiful people and gives me space to think compared to some of the busier cities I’ve lived.
E voce preparado para amo?
When I stepped off the plane my post-undergraduate summer into the tropical, vibrant, Afro-Brazilian coast of Bahia, northern Brazil, I could feel the love in the air. Bahia’s population, which is approximately 81% Black and scores high on the LGBTQ Equaldex site, presented me with a new way of understanding what it means to be Black and Queer. Bahia to me was a place where I could meet, love, and learn from many POC (People of Color) LGBTQ members.
Bahia, of course, is not without its own issues; at times I had to deal with pervasive racism from individuals in wealthier neighborhoods who thought I was a Black Brazilian. During my visit in 2017, there was a great deal of political unrest. Communities were protesting and firmly advocating for their rights, which at times created an air of unease. My host mother advised me to be vigilant because the beautiful freedom I enjoyed could be quickly taken depending on which street I turned down or what subtle form of foreignness I might display.
Yet even with this backdrop, Bahia had beautiful underground parties, events, and beaches where a rainbow array of LGBTQ members would meet up, dance, and let the world’s joy shine away!
Pros: Beautiful weather and beaches, vibrant POC LGBTQ community, warm and friendly locals
Cons: Pervasive Racism, dangerous neighborhoods at night
Song that represents the city to me: Conte a Todos – Sango
Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
DEUTSCHLAND. While visiting Germany for a few weeks during my final year of graduate school, I was looking for a new city to move to that would offer history, employment, and a welcoming LGBTQ scene. After hearing from several friends who had moved to the “New York of Europe”, Berlin kept popping up as a great option.
On arrival, I was intrigued by the grey undertones of the city. The rainy and overcast weather loomed over us. The streets had washed down graffiti and muted colored buildings. It took a bit of time, but once I finally acclimated, Berlin revealed its subtle shades and hues. The underground community was truly one that was compassionate and considerate while I was there. Although the different people I met weren’t immediately welcoming, after chatting and taking my time to get to know them our relationships blossomed. This is definitely a city I’ll put on my shortlist of places to live next.
For me, Berlin evokes Tupac Shakur’s poem‘The Rose That Grew from Concrete‘. That resilience was felt everywhere I went in Berlin – the nature to defy rule and continue to find roots that anchor you while you sprout and find air.
Berlin also reminded me of the lesson that you must learn to find your own boundaries. You can party until 6 AM every night and always find art shows, events, or scenes to go to, but that doesn’t mean you should. Although the food, culture, and nightlife were amazing, it was a place where I sensed I would need to find my own discipline.
Pros: Open and eclectic LGBTQ scene, expansive career opportunities, affordable housing
Cons: Unwelcoming culture at times, rainy weather
Song that best represents the city to me: Assume the Worst – DRAMA
No worries mate!
Melbourne was a fun, bustling city that I’m grateful I got the opportunity to enjoy for half a year. Two great perks of moving to the land of Oz were the myriad work opportunities and a strong living wage. I worked for the Fitzroy Beer Garden and the LGBTQ scene I experienced came in many shades and forms. I met many open transgenders, proud butch queens, and comfortably effeminate gays who didn’t feel the need to hide.
The South-East Asian culture and indigenous natives brought deeply rich history that added to the spark of Melbs. If you enjoy bar-hopping look no further than Melbourne. Literally, there was a scene for everyone, from beer gardens, fancy rooftops, to grunge kick-back spaces. Melbourne’s the city for my fellow rainbow foodies! From the many coffee shops, restaurants, and quick dine-in’s, I could eat my way through that city forever (shout out to Queen Victoria Market!)
When it comes to acclimating, Melbourne provided the freedom to express oneself with style and lightheartedness. I truly learned to find my own style living in Melbourne: amazing colors, jackets, and accessories were everywhere. People dressed how they felt and walked with a confidence I admired.
The toughest part for me in Melbs was the lack of POC Queer communities. At times, it could feel as if I was one of only a few people of color in the room. My fellow POC friends would talk about the hidden, and at times, overt racism while traveling outside Melbourne to more rural parts of the country.
All in all, I loved Melbourne and think if you are looking to pick up and go it’s a place where you can find steady expat work and a great quality of life.
Pros: Fun Nightlife, amazing food scene, ample work opportunities
Cons: Lack of POC LGBTQ community, subvert racism
Song that best describes the city to me: VIVID DREAMS – Kaytranada
E ti sen?
As a Ghanaian-American, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the rich culture of this city. I lived in Ghana for several years growing up and as a young adult, I have seen how the country has changed.
First and foremost, Ghana still has sodomy laws and is deeply religious. Although my identity could be an issue with some people, I found that the majority of millennials I met were kind and compassionate, despite being perplexed by my comfort being Queer. I also would meet many LGBTQ members through events and find that many expats who were working in Ghana were comfortable expressing themselves in private.
Even though navigating the official laws could be a bit of an annoyance, I felt being comfortable with my own identity allowed me to appreciate other ways of life. I was able to explore and really take in the Ghana I learned to know and love. At times you will be faced with the challenge of your identity since there are a few backward prerogatives, and to that, I say manage with caution and listen to your intuition on how the room feels. Safety first always!
Pros: Affordability, welcoming locals, deep history and tradition to learn from
Cons: Lack of LGBTQ rights, bigotry
Song that best describes the city: Adonai – Sarkodie, Castro
I’m a man on the go but you can always find me on IG @mikekbo