As the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic Games approach, a number of crises are plaguing the host nation of Brazil, including a troubling escalation of brutal anti-LGBTQ violence. Brazil’s ongoing political and economic turmoil, with the suspension of the country’s president, a recession, and the Zika virus scare, have been hogging news headlines. But much of the the coverage tends to gloss over a highly worrying trend for the country and its LGBTQ community: Levels of violence are rising dangerously, including anti-LGBTQ attacks marked by exceptional viciousness and brutality.
A recent brief by the Human Rights Campaign illuminates the tragic violence facing Brazil’s LGBTQ population, particularly transgender women. Brazil has the unfortunate reputation of being one of the deadliest places in the world in terms of recorded anti-LGBTQ violence, despite the fact that police are often reluctant to register anti-LGBTQ crimes as hate attacks.
Shockingly, on average, about one LGBTQ Brazilian is killed in a hate-motivated crime each day. This past January, in a single day, three transgender women were killed, and another was wounded in a stabbing. Forty percent of murder victims from anti-LGBTQ attacks are transgender women, despite the fact that they represent only about 10 percent of the LGBTQ population in the country.
Despite being sworn to protect all people, police officers are repeatedly perpetrators of criminal violence against transgender people. The rising specter of evangelical intolerance and the toxic effects of poverty also pose serious dangers to LGBTQ Brazilians. In spite of discrimination, violence, and poverty, LGBTQ leaders continue to courageously organize and advocate for a more equal future for LGBTQ Brazilians.
Brazilian LGBTQ activists have done an admirable job pushing their federal, state, and municipal representatives to enact a broad array of protective measures. The violence is also surprising to many outside the country given that Brazil has been a global and regional leader on LGBTQ rights. On the domestic front, marriage equality was enacted in 2013, same-sex relations have been legal since the 19th century, Rio and São Paolo host the world’s largest annual Pride parades, and a variety of federal and local antidiscrimination laws protect LGBTQ Brazilians. This impressive progress has been achieved despite opposition from a vocal but powerful evangelical minority.
Just three weeks to the start of the Rio Olympics, the escalation of brutal anti-LGBTQ violence is deeply worrying. It also comes at a troubling moment for our community as a series of vicious attacks have been unleashed on LGBTQ people in places as diverse as Orlando, Bangladesh. and ISIL-controlled territories in the Middle East. For Brazil’s LGBTQ community, the Olympics provide an opportunity to illuminate their plight well beyond the country’s borders.
As the focus begins to turn to the Rio Olympics, our attention must not be diverted from the ugly truth of rising violence against LGBTQ Brazilians. We must continue to sound the alarm about this dangerous escalation and call on Brazilian authorities to take swift and decisive action to investigate attacks, prosecute attackers, and end the prevailing sense of lawlessness and impunity.
SAURAV JUNG THAPA is the associate director of research at HRC Global.
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