By Oscar Lopez
Sept 8 (Openly) - The number of transgender people killed in Brazil this year has risen by 70% over last year, according to research underscoring the South American country's rank as the world's deadliest place for trans people.
The 129 trans people murdered since January already exceeds the total killings in 2019, according to a report by the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (ANTRA), a local activist organization.
The number of trans people - 16 - who died by suicide in the first six months of 2020 is a third higher than last year as well, ANTRA said.
"The outlook is bleak," said Bruna Benevides, a trans activist and author of ANTRA's report, via messaging service WhatsApp.
"The death of trans people ... starts long before the trigger is pulled. It's in the insults, the evictions from home, the lack of job opportunities, it's at school where gender is never discussed," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Brazil has made a number of strides in transgender rights in recent years, such as a Supreme Court ruling last year that transphobia and homophobia are criminal offences.
A 2018 ruling by the highest court allowed trans people to change their names and gender on official documents without undergoing surgery.
Despite the legal recognition, gay and trans Brazilians face prejudice and widespread violence in the socially conservative country where powerful Evangelical churches are highly critical of LGBT+ rights.
The nation of some 200 million people regularly ranks as the deadliest country worldwide for trans people, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring research project.
Activists say social prejudice has grown under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro who regularly speaks out against "gender ideology," a conservative term used to condemn progressive ideas on sex and gender.
"People feel legitimized expressing the hate that has been encouraged in every speech, in every lack of action, in every manipulation of public opinion against the boogeyman of gender ideology," Benevides said.
The coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse, activists say, with trans people locked out of jobs or trapped in unsupportive or abusive home lives during lockdown measures.
A pandemic hot spot, Brazil has registered 4.15 million cases of the coronavirus and the official death toll has soared past 126,000 people, according to Health Ministry data.
A survey published in June found a quarter of unemployed gay and trans Brazilians had lost their jobs during the pandemic, and that joblessness among LGBT+ Brazilians was almost double the nation's overall rate.
"This whole scenario creates a process of sickness caused by the lack of public policies to prevent suicide and transphobic violence," Benevides said.
The report from ANTRA, published late on Monday, was based on reports of killings in local media, on social networks and from partner groups.
However, the authors said the true number of murders could be much higher than what has been reported.
(Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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