The Kiss: Two Brazilian Women Arrested and Beaten
BY Trevor Martin
October 28 2013 5:18 AM ET
A story of astonishing bigotry and thuggish homophobia was beamed around the world last month when two young women —Yunka Mihura, 21, and Joana Palhares, 18, — were manhandled, beaten, arrested, and thrown in a jail cell for kissing at a public gospel concert in a park in Brazil.
The event was hosted by pastor and congressman Marco Feliciano. No stranger to controversy, his election to congress — along with his seat as the head of Brazil's Human Rights and Minorities Commission — raises eyebrows, considering his vociferous distaste for gays, people of color and, ironically, human rights in general.
When Feliciano caught sight of Mihura and Palhares kissing at the public rally in September, he had spotlights and TV cameras trained on the young women, exposed, ridiculed, and insulted them, then ordered police to handcuff the couple and cart them away — all while holding a microphone.
"Those two girls have to leave here handcuffed," he said over the PA system when he saw the trim, shirtless women in an embrace. "No use trying to run! Guards are headed there now. This isn't a place where anything goes. This is a house of God!"
The young women were dragged out of the crowd, beaten by security officers, handcuffed and jailed. Their attorney, Daniel Galani, said the girls were there to protest and did nothing criminal. "They have committed no crime, because if kissing is a crime, half the people who were at the rally would have been arrested," Galani said. "The world needs more tolerance, the world needs more compassion. Hate speech and harassment is not the answer."
Now, for the first time in the English-speaking press, one of the young women involved in the incident is speaking out, sharing her side of the story with The Advocate. Mihura, a 21-year-old bisexual activist, might have just found her calling through a simple kiss with the girl she's dating.
The Advocate: Hi Yunka. Thanks for chatting with me. May I ask where you were born?
Yunka Mihura: I was born in Florianopolis in Brazil, and I have lived in France and also Argentina. Currently I live in Ilhabela, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Are you actually gay? Some press reports have suggested you are straight.
Four years ago I kissed a girl for the first time – she was my best friend and neither of us had kissed someone of the same sex before. A teenage prank? Maybe. But I liked it. I like girls and boys, and I don't like labels, but labels exist, I suppose, so I guess I identify as bisexual because it is what I feel — it is not a choice. I choose not to eat meat, I choose to recycle. I choose my hair color and I choose to have tattoos. I choose the clothes I am wearing, but I did not choose my orientation. I find it is very simple: I can love a man or a woman. I feel like I don't fall in love with a gender but with a person's heart.
You went to an evangelical rally and pop concert in Brazil with about 20 friends. Are you religious?
I would define myself as having a spiritual side. I respect all religions, although I think religions should preach love, encourage us to help others, to be a good person — instead of what many fanatics do, which is issue threats and spread prejudice.
Are you very political?
I would rather not get involved with politics per se, but as many have seen, it is sometimes hard for me and my friends to stay quiet amidst so much hypocrisy, injustice and corruption today.
When did you first become aware of the notorious pastor and politician Marco Feliciano?
I first became aware of Feliciano in March 2013 when he was elected president for the Commission of Human Rights and Minorities in the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil. Feliciano is known for his racist and homophobic stance — he was even responsible for attempting to pass legislation that proposed Brazilian psychologists be allowed to treat homosexuality as a disease to be "cured." He is trying to turn the clock back and have LGBTs treated as "disordered." Of course the bill was thrown out, but Feliciano is determined to reintroduce it just as soon as he can. I do not believe politics and religion make a good mix, and a person in charge of human rights and minorities who has such obvious racist and antigay policies should not be in power. It's ridiculous.
Why did you, Joana, and your friends decide to attend the evangelical rally hosted by Feliciano?
Joana and I are not evangelical Christians, but there is no reason why we shouldn't go to a public concert and event [that was defined as a cultural event in the press], and Brazil is theoretically a secular country in any case. Also, we could not let go of the fact that Marco Feliciano is a person with dangerous prejudices who is brainwashing thousands upon thousands of Brazilians. We felt we had to peacefully show our discontent with him in some way. We wanted to demonstrate that many people do not agree with his views and his abuse of his position in the government.
The young woman who kissed you — when and where where did you meet? How long have you known each other?
Joana and I met in January and since then we have been great friends. It is a colorful friendship. We have a lot of affection for each other. We are dating. It's early days. First and foremost we are friends and the most important thing for us is to fight for what we feel is right.
So you intended to protest at the rally?
Yes we did. Joana and I decided to attend the evangelical rally and concert with about 20 friends and we came with placards with our messages of protest painted on them. We took off our shirts and were only wearing a bra and skirts and our bodies and faces were painted in bright colors. At the entrance, the officials asked us to put on our shirts because it was a gospel event. We complied in order to get through the entrance, and we took off our T-shirts again when we arrived at the front of the crowd near the stage. Some civilian policemen approached us again and asked us not to show the placards. The placards had messages like "Homosexuality Does Not Need a Cure," and "Homophobia Is a Crime," and that "Feliciano Should Be Ousted from Government." The policemen were reasonable with us, but they said we could be arrested under a criminal code which makes "disrupting a religious service" an arrestable offense in Brazil. [Article 208]
Whether this was a "religious service" is debatable, though. It was a public event — a pop concert and a rally paid for by the government?
Yes, exactly. Nevertheless, the civilian police confiscated our protest placards. We we were disappointed. However we were not there to get arrested — we didn't want that, obviously. We simply wanted to make our feelings about human rights heard. We felt we had a right to be there and to make ourselves understood — to be acknowledged.