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Gay TV kiss makes
waves in Brazil

Gay TV kiss makes
waves in Brazil

Brazilian TV is no stranger to scandal, but Friday night's final installment of the TV Globo telenovela America, which may air a scene involving a kiss between two men, has created more than the usual stir. Fans across the nation are eagerly waiting to see whether Junior, the son of a powerful ranch owner, will go so far as to kiss Zeca, one of the hired hands. If he does, it would mark the first time two men have exchanged a kiss on Brazilian television.

"I think this is a very significant moment in Brazilian history. The gay movement has exploded, and there's a real shift in people's understanding of homophobia. The media is finally catching up," James Green, author of Beyond Carnival: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil, said in a telephone interview from Rhode Island.

In 1998, the TV drama Tower of Babel featured a lesbian couple, but until America the subject of a relationship between men had been largely taboo. Green, who is a professor of Brazilian history and culture at Brown University, said he believes that if Junior and Zeca do kiss in the final chapter of America, it could have repercussions well beyond Brazil's borders. "Just like Will & Grace had an influence on Mexico, the kiss on the telenovela could have an influence across Latin America," Green said.

Globo's novelas are translated and exported across Latin America and around the world to countries as far away as Russia, where they are immensely popular. For its part, Globo is being coy about whether or not the kiss will take place, but the controversy has already driven up ratings and provoked a wide-ranging discussion about the acceptance of gay men in Latin America's largest nation.

"The final scenes of America are an absolute secret, a surprise from the author, Gloria Perez, to the novela's spectators," Globo's press office said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "Although the scene [of the kiss] is not yet confirmed, the subject is certainly on the lips of the people and has stimulated discussion about the subject."

Globo's telenovelas are immensely popular across this nation of 183 million people, and final episodes of the most popular novelas have been known to register audiences equal to 90% of the viewing public. According to Globo, when Perez announced last week that the scene was being planned the network received a flood of telephone calls and e-mails, with about 53% of them opposing the kiss and 47% in favor. By Monday, however, the network said about 80% of the reaction had been in favor of the kiss.

"Without a doubt, the fact that they are even talking about a kiss between two men is a change for the better," said Luiz Carlos Freitas, president of the gay rights group Arco-Iris. "Globo, being the biggest media conglomerate in this country, has a decisive role in creating attitudes. It can determine the way people behave."

Globo is no stranger to controversy. It has long used its novelas to open public discussion about controversial subjects such as divorce, which became legal in Brazil only in 1977, and abortion, which is still illegal. Bishop Dom Odilio Pedro Scherer, general secretary of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference, said the church would not comment on the planned kiss.

And while Portuguese-speaking Brazilians are generally more tolerant of homosexual conduct than their neighbors in Spanish-speaking Latin America, the country remains something of a paradox. Judges have granted foreign partners in gay relationships residency rights and have authorized civil unions that grant many of the benefits of marriage to gay couples, but there are many segments of society that remain openly hostile to gays and lesbians. A study conducted by the Candido Mendes University in Rio de Janeiro found that 60% of Rio's homosexual population had experienced some type of harassment because of their sexual orientation, and 17% said they had experienced physical violence. (Michael Astor, AP)

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