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Brazil Elects First Two Transgender Members of Congress

Duda Salabert and Erika Hilton
From left: Duda Salabert and Erika Hilton

In Sunday's election, the nation also sent anti-LGBTQ+ President Jair Bolsonaro to a runoff.

Brazil voted in the first two transgender members of its Congress in Sunday's election, while the nation's anti-LGBTQ+ president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been forced into a runoff as he seeks reelection.

Erika Hilton won a seat representing the state of Sao Paulo, and voters in the state of Minas Gerais elected Duda Salabert, the Washington Blade reports. Both women are currently members of the municipal councils in their respective cities, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

"We are going to get off the street corners, we are going to get out of jails, we are going to get off crack corners and prostitution and start to think about public policies and legislation," Hilton said after the vote, according to The Guardian. "Our mandate in Brasilia will be more organized, more committed, and closer to people.

Salabert spoke out in a Twitter video, saying, "We won the election despite the attacks from leftists, attacks from Christian fundamentalists, and death threats from the extreme right."

Hilton and Salabert were among 324 out LGBTQ+ candidates running for Congress, state legislatures, and governors' offices, the Blade reports. Eighteen won their races, and that will double Brazil's LGBTQ+ representation, the LGBTQ Victory Institute notes. Sixteen of the winners are women.

"Brazil's LGBTQ community -- and trans community in particular -- has never had equitable representation in government," Alheli Partida, director of global programs at Victory Institute, said in a press release. "But with a record number of LGBTQ candidates running this year, it is clear that LGBTQ leaders are stepping up to make change from within the halls of power. Erika and Duda showed true courage in their campaigns for Congress, running during a time of increased homophobia and transphobia at the hands of President Bolsonaro and his followers. Their success is not just a sharp rebuke to these bigots, but a beacon of hope to Brazil's vibrant LGBTQ community.

"While we hope their success is a sign of better days, Brazil remains an incredibly tough place to engage as an out leader -- where homophobia, transphobia, death threats and worse are common. In 2018, we lost one of our own, Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Marielle Franco, assassinated by anti-LGBTQ and anti-women attackers. While her loss continues to be devastating, she has become an icon and the fuel needed to inspire more courageous LGBTQ Brazilians to raise their voices."

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro will be in a runoff election October 30 against a liberal former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro received 43.2 percent of the vote and da Silva 48.4 percent, The New York Times reports. A candidate would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote to be elected outright.

Bolsonaro has often been likened to Donald Trump, and he is known for many anti-LGBTQ+ and racist statements and policies, such as saying he'd rather have a dead son than a gay one. Leading up to Sunday's vote, polls indicated Bolsonaro is deeply unpopular in Brazil, which has economic, environmental, and other problems. But he received more of the vote than expected.

Like Trump, Bolsonaro has suggested the polls and the vote were rigged against him. "Our system is not 100 percent ironclad," he said Sunday, according to the Times. "There's always the possibility of something abnormal happening in a fully computerized system."

Former Trump aide Steve Bannon is making claims of a rigged election in Brazil as well. The Brazil vote is "a very stark warning to MAGA and to all the Republicans of the games that are being played in all these elections," he said on his TV program, The War Room, on the right-wing network Real America's Voice, as documented by Media Matters for America. He also called da Silva "the transnational criminal puppet of the Chinese Communist Party."

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