Fighting Back in Brazil

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com January 10 2013 4:00 AM ET

Hosting the 2016 Olympics and emerging as an economic powerhouse, Brazil is headed swiftly toward a more prominent place on the world stage. But the country can’t shake off an epidemic more indicative of smaller, often poverty-stricken nations: pervasive violence against LGBT people.

Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring project in November revealed that among the 265 murders of trans people reported globally in the preceding 12 months, 126 of them were in Brazil, the largest number of any country. It was the only country with triple digits (notoriously biased Pakistan had five reported killings, for example), and according to the monitoring project, it’s only getting worse. In 2008,  57 trans killings were reported in Brazil.

A well-publicized 2011 report from the gay rights organization Grupo Gay da Bahía found attacks and murders on the rise; LGBT people were being bashed once every 36 hours. And last fall at least 15 gay activists in Curitiba, a prominent southern city, received death threats.

“You are going to die, you, your husband, and your son. Your mother is a dyke,” was the phone message left for Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transvestite, and Transsexual Association.

But unlike those in Jamaica, Russia, or Uganda, officials in Brazil are working to curb homophobic violence. After Reis and the other activists reported the disturbing phone calls and emails, the Human Rights Secretariat of Brazil sent several of its people to Curitiba to interview those threatened. The national officials met with local law enforcement, which set up a special committee to investigate the threats (no one’s been arrested yet). Meanwhile, the federal government operates a 24-hour national telephone service for LGBT people to report violence and discrimination, and the federal government is forming “pacts” with the 27 state governments to stem homophobia, which Reis says derives from Christian sources.

“Religious intolerance among some evangelical groups against LGBT people is increasing,” he says, adding that many church leaders actively lobby politicians against gay rights.

Evangelical Protestants, especially, have pushed back against efforts by the Brazilian government to protect the nation’s LGBT people. Last year, even before the Grupo Gay da Bahía report made international headlines, liberal legislators introduced a bill to outlaw anti-LGBT bias, providing jail time for those discriminating or inciting violence against LGBT people. Conservative Christians said the legislation would make it impossible for them to preach against homosexuality, and the bill was watered down as a result of their efforts.

Even with many gay-supportive government leaders, Reis admits, “Progress is slow and impunity continues to reign.”