Sexual Identity in Africa

Kwame Edwin Otu studies complexities of LGBT life in Ghana.

Kwame Edwin Otu

Official signs warn those entering Ghana against vaguely defined “sexual deviancy” — despite outside pressure for the nation to modernize LGBT attitudes. It’s an environment that, for the nation’s sassoi (self-identified effeminate men), couldn’t be more challenging.

Ghana and the sassoi represent a case study, of sorts, for Kwame Edwin Otu ’16 PhD (Anth), assistant professor at the University of Virginia. His studies of sexual politics, homophobia, LGBT human rights, and neoliberalism in today’s Africa — and an upcoming book on the sassoi — make him a sought-after authority within African American and African studies. Connections between race, sexuality, and colonial history are endlessly fertile.

Otu is also writer and actor in Reluctantly Queer, a short made with filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu that folds his personal story into his scholarly interests. At a Lincoln Center/MOMA new-films festival last year, Otu described the film’s central question as: “Homophobia and, say, Negrophobia — how do they interact to make life unbearable for some of us?”

This article appeared in the winter 2019 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail