International Day Against LGBTphobia marks resistance amid hate violence in Brazil

In one of the most transphobic countries in the world, LGBT people struggle to have their existence recognized

São Paulo |
LGBT activists hold rainbow flag outside Brazil’s Congress during the country’s first March Against Homophobia
LGBT activists hold rainbow flag outside Brazil’s Congress during the country’s first March Against Homophobia - Handout

Today (17) is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), a date to celebrate diversity against all forms of discrimination – a pressing issue in Brazil, one of the countries with the highest rates of discrimination against and murder of LGBT people in the world.

The date is symbolic for LGBT rights activism, as it marks the day when the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from the international classification of diseases, according to the chair of Brazil’s National Network of Trans People (Rede Trans Brasil), Tathiane Aquino de Araújo.

“We celebrate this recognition, but this is something that all parts of society have yet to recognize so they can understand that being transexual, travesti, or homosexual does not mean you are sick, but it’s just part of human behavior. We have to understand it is not a choice,” she says.

A little over two months ago, for example, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that trans people can legally change their name to match their gender identity. The decision, however, only came after a trans person from Rio Grande do Sul, a state in southern Brazil, appealed a court ruling that she would be allowed to change her own name only after a sex reassignment surgery. She fought five years in court.

Laerte Coutinho, a Brazilian trans cartoonist, points out that fighting for your gender identity means fighting to have your own existence recognized.

“Discovering transgenderness [for me] was part of a process of understanding and accepting my own homosexuality. What I and many people experience is basically a pursue for our freedom of gender expression,” she says.

For actor and writer Alberto Pereira Jr., taking part in many different areas of society is a form of resistance, recognition, and inclusion for LGBT people. However, he argues, this has to become a bigger movement.

“For example, while the pop music scene in Brazil has great transexual, bisexual, gay – LGBT artists in general who are able to move from niche into mainstream, we also see a conservative, intimidating wave in political, social, and economic aspects,” he says.

Araújo points out that LGBT people are important agents of change and have to demand rights in terms of work, health policies, and against violence. “We have our demands, but we also propose and value actions that aim to build a society for everyone, to integrate this population. It’s not ok that part of the population has less civil rights than others, but this is what happens to us.”

Pereira Jr. directed the documentary film "I Now Pronounce You…" (with English subtitles), which tells stories of LGBT families and their struggles. The film was released in 2012, when the stable union of LGBT couples was formally recognized in Brazil, followed by a court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

He mentions article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by Brazil, which establishes that every human being has the right to marry and found a family. “No one wants to have more than others. Everyone just wants to have the same rights. LGBT couples didn’t have that back then and still have to fight to have equal rights,” he argues.

“Also, we have to consider that lawmakers are adamantly against finding a compromise and recognizing this need [for change],” Coutinho adds.

Increasing violence

According to a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), Brazil has the highest murder rate of LGBT people in the Americas, and also the highest murder rate of trans people reported in the world.

According to data from the Gay Group of Bahia (Grupo Gay da Bahia – GGB), an LGBT person is killed every 19 hours in Brazil. Last year, 445 people were murdered in the country for being LGBT.

In the first four months of 2018, 153 LGBT people were murdered in Brazil, Latin America’s largest country. Of those, trans people are the most common victims. According to the Rede Trans Brasil, around one trans person is killed every 26 hours.

The life expectancy of trans people in Brazil is 35 years. “The social hardships [they face] are exclusion, lack of job opportunities, prostitution, and having sex work as the only alternative to make a living,” Araújo says.

The most recent case reported in Brazil is Matheusa Passareli, a non-binary black student and artist who was brutally assassinated after leaving a party in a slum in the north area of Rio de Janeiro.

Impunity is another attack against trans people’s human dignity, according to trans activist Maria Eduarda, a member of the Transgender Association of Sergipe State (Associação Sergipana de Transgêneros – ASTRA), from Aracaju. “We realized the murders of LGBT people in Brazil, our State, and city remain unsolved. They regard us as people with no family, no education. We’re invisible to society.”

The Rede Trans Brasil chair says that being afraid to report crimes also makes things worse. “People don’t feel safe when they go to the police, because they fear they could be more discriminated against and become even more vulnerable. They ask you what you were doing on the street so late at night, for example, so law enforcement is not humanized. These are specific problems that the Brazilian State has to acknowledge if it wants to reduce this type of violence.”

Coutinho argues that discussing LGBTphobia is also addressing how legitimate Brazilian democracy is. “This fight [against LGBTphobia] is acknowlegded and carried on. Meanwhile, this is also a country where a lot of trans people are murdered, gays and lesbians are attacked and discriminated against, where they try to impose a conservative order over sexuality and gender. Just look at how many times they've tried to stop the conversation about gender in schools. It’s a serious attack on education.”

Pereira Jr. says that the media coverage of these topics is sporadic, but the situation should be more carefully looked into. “While all LGBT people can be victims of discrimination, those who are black, poor, and LGBT have much harder, more vulnerable lives. The weight is so much heavier [on them].”

Politics and democracy

Pereira Jr. points out that LGBTphobia is deep-rooted in patriarchal culture, which is not democratic and should be fought. “Democracy is the best, most effective form of politics created by man yet. Democracy is not just about elections, but a daily habit, to respect differences, listen to others, and be self-critical too.”

“This is election year in Brazil. We have to be aware of what the parties and candidates are saying, who they are connected to, and what ideas and agendas they push, because a conservative, homophobic, racist candidate cannot and must not have a chance in the 21st century. We have to be aware and wide-awake, because our victories could be taken from us if we aren’t careful,” he says.

Several activities were organized in Brazil to honor the struggle and the sorrow of LGBT people to commemorate IDAHOBIT day.

Edited by: Diego Sartorato | Translated by Aline Scátola