Brazil's LGBTQ+ community fears Bolsonaro re-election

by Jennifer Ann Thomas and Jacob Kessler
Friday, 28 October 2022 17:10 GMT

Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro participate in a candidates' debate ahead of a runoff election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 16, 2022. REUTERS/Mariana Greif

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Brazil goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president. How will it impact the LGBTQ+ population?

By Jennifer Ann Thomas and Jacob Kessler

SAO PAULO/LIMA, Oct 28 - LGBTQ+ Brazilians fear that a win for incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro in Sunday's runoff election could lead to a rollback of their rights.

The vote in South America's largest country pits the far-right populist Bolsonaro against leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, who governed Brazil from 2003-2010.

The latest polls show Lula is leading but pollsters were widely criticized for significantly underestimating support for Bolsonaro in the Oct. 2 first round of the election.    

What are the candidates' views on LGBTQ+ rights?

Bolsonaro, a self-described homophobe, has said that he would prefer a dead son to a gay son.

Under his administration, the national HIV task force's leader, Adele Benzaken, was fired in 2019 after her department published a booklet designed to highlight issues faced by transgender men.

In contrast, Lula has described homophobia as "the most perverse disease impregnated in the human head."

In 2010, he created the National Council to Combat Discrimination and Promote the Rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Travestis and Transsexuals - which Bolsonaro disbanded when he became president in 2019.

Travesti is a reclaimed pejorative term that incorporates both trans and Brazilian identities, while transsexuals say they were born in the wrong body.

Lula was criticized this month by trans activists for comments during a popular Brazilian podcast that they said were transphobic.

What is it like to be LGBTQ+ in Brazil?

Gay sex was legalized in 1830, same-sex couples have been able to marry since 2013 and Brazil's top court in 2019 outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity.

But anti-LGBTQ+ violence has increased, with 300 people killed because of their sexuality or gender identity in 2021, up from 237 in 2020, according to market and consumer data company statista.com.

Many LGBTQ+ Brazilians say they feel unsafe.

"I don't walk holding hands with my girlfriend, I avoid public demonstrations of affection and I don't like to publicize that I date a woman," said Leticia Daubian.

"The mere possibility of the current president's re-election makes me shiver," she said.

What's the influence of the church?

Both presidential candidates have sought to win votes from Brazil's fast-growing Evangelical churches. One in four Brazilians is believed to be Evangelical in the predominantly Catholic country.

A recent poll by PoderData said 62% of evangelical voters back Bolsonaro, whose conservative agenda is based on family values and the rejection of gay marriage, and 38% back Lula and his Workers' Party (PT). 

"Lula and PT are occasionally influenced by the large portion of Evangelicals in the country," Leandro Colling, a professor of gender and sexuality at Brazil's Federal University of Bahia, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Although most Evangelicals support Bolsonaro, Colling said that the PT's allyship with Evangelicals has led the party to take actions contrary to LGBTQ+ rights.

He cited the example of Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff, also a PT member, ending Brazil's Schools without Homophobia project due to pressure from the religious right. 

"Since 2011, LGBT activists have been warning about the risks of giving in to pressure from religious fundamentalists," he said.    

"We know that an eventual Lula government will not necessarily be easy to work with (but) at least we won't have a president who is openly against LGBT people."

What is the situation like for trans people?

Brazil is the most dangerous country in the world for trans people. Last year, 375 trans and gender-diverse people were reported murdered, 7% higher than the previous year, according to rights group Transgender Europe.

Trans activists hope a Lula victory will improve the situation.

"Lula represents the possibility of resuming a path that will rescue our democracy and lead us towards a path of valuing and celebrating diversity," said Bruna Benevides, political secretary of the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals (ANTRA).

"We hope that (with Lula) we can utilize diverse perspectives to rebuild Brazil together, and take into account the many contributions of LGBTQIA+ people."

But the situation for trans people is improving.

Earlier this month, two trans women were elected to the lower chamber of the Brazilian parliament for the first time in the country's history.

What would a Bolsonaro victory mean?

Benevides said Bolsonaro's re-election could lead to an overturning of many advances made by minority groups over the past couple decades. 

"Bolsonaro's regressive rollback of human rights will escalate should Bolsonaro be elected to a second term," said Aurélio Máximo Prado, head of the Center for Human Rights and LGBT citizenship at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

He could "regress rights, cancel mandatory state policies (protecting LGBT people) and reverse Supreme Court decisions."

Some human rights activists are preparing for the possibility of a Bolsonaro victory.

"(If Bolsonaro wins), we will simply resist and look for ways to defend our rights," said Cláudio Nascimento, a prominent LGBTQ+ activist from Rio de Janeiro.

"We will also need the international community and international organizations to support Brazilian activism ... so that we can survive what will be a dark moment for us."

Related stories:

Eyeing presidency, gay Brazilian governor braces for anti-LGBT+ jibe

Brazil trans lawmaker eyes job quota to curb anti-LGBT+ violence

Three trans women were elected to the lower chamber of the Brazilian parliament

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