Although transphobia appears in Brazil’s legislation as a crime since 2019, the country still has the largest number of trans and queer people murdered in the world. In 2021, Brazil led the list for the 13th consecutive year.
The total number of trans women and queer people murdered is the largest since 2008, when the data recording began.
According to Transgender Europe (TGEU) 2021 report, which monitors data globally collected by trans and LGBTQIA+ institutions, 70% of all the murders recorded have happened in South and Central American countries, being that 33% of them took place in Brazil, Mexico (65), and USA (53), respectively.
The data also shows that in the last 13 years, at least 4,042 trans and gender diverse people were murdered between January 2008 and September 2021.
Between October 2020 and September 2021, 375 murders were recorded in the world. It represents a 7% rise compared to the previous year.
The report shows that Brazil had 125 deaths among this population. On the other hand, in 2020 alone, the country’s National Association of Trans and Queer People recorded 175 transfemicides and mapped 80 murders in the first semester of 2021.
The majority of transfemicide victims are women. According to TGEU’s document, 96% of the people murdered in the world are trans women and transfeminized people, 58% of the trans people murdered were sex workers. The average age of those murdered is 30. About 36% of the murders took place on the streets and 24% inside the victims’ houses.
The data reunited by TGEU was obtained with trans organizations and civil society groups that carry out some sort of professional monitoring in their countries. However, these figures do not give the big picture of transphobia in Brazil.
According to the report, it must be considered the unreported cases and the unregistered deaths with transphobic motivation committed by governmental public security systems. That is a blatant reality in Brazil.
To trans man Kaio de Souza Lemos, coordinator of the Trans Studies Magazine and Transmaculinities Brazilian Institute (IBRAT, in Portuguese), the lack of police reports makes transphobia an invisible crime, making it difficult to map public policies.
He says that the increase in violence against trans people has been making part of the political environment, “marked by a fundamentalism of heteronormativity that makes itself present in the lack of data about violence against the queer population”.
Journalist and producer of trans content Helena Vieira analyzes that the category of violence against trans people is still to be acknowledged in Brazil.
“We need to talk about genocide, because in Brazil the violence against trans people works like that, showing its numbers and, at the same time, hiding them as if it had a tacit agreement to silence about these deaths”.
Right to exist and live
The study LGBTIfobia no Brasil: barreiras para o reconhecimento institucional da criminalização (LGBTIphobia in Brazil: hindrances to the institutional recognition of criminalization, in Portuguese), organized by All Out, coordinated by Matizes Institute and published in 2021, points out that two years after the Supreme Court’s decision, the criminalization of LGBTIphobia is not yet a reality in the country.
“The difficulties in bringing about the accusations add to the resistance of the public security forces and the judicial system to acknowledge and apply the decision."
The survey points out 34 hindrances to recognizing the criminalization of LGBTphobia. Some of the institutional hindrances the survey lists include the lack of standardization of state systems to register the accusations and the nonrecognition of the assumed name of trans and queer people in the accusation proceedings.
The lack of sexual orientation and gender identity fields in police report filling systems is pointed out as one of the hindrances that result in non-transparency and lack of clarity by governments.
Other obstacles are the low rate of filling information in the fields of sexual orientation and gender identity when they exist in police reports, and also the inexpressive filling in the fields of motivation for LGBTIphobic crimes in the police reports.
In October 2021, the TV news program Jornal Hoje investigated cases of homophobia and transphobia recorded in police stations. They required the data from all Brazilian federal units through Brazil’s Law on Access to Information (LAI, in Portuguese), asking the public security state departments.
Only 15 states and the country’s Federal District informed their numbers. Ten states said their systems do not allow to calculate statistics on crimes against this population and the state of Santa Catarina gave an inconclusive answer.
Of all the numbers informed to the news report, 135 crimes of homophobia and transphobia were recorded between June 2020 and June 2021. On the other hand, data from the National Association of Trans and Queer People (Antra, in Portuguese), referred to previously – which only considers transfemicide crimes –, are larger than all the data on homophobia recorded in Brazil.
In 2020 alone, there were 175 murders against queer people and trans women. According to Antra, 89 trans people died in the first half of 2021 (80 murders and 9 suicides). In this same period, the association recorded 33 murder attempts and 27 human rights violations against this population.
Jornal Hoje journalists also asked the state public security departments for the total number of other crimes against the LGBT+ population.
Nine states did not answer the journalists’ requests. Among them are Amazonas, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais. Of those who answered the request, the news report found a total of 1,726 registered crimes motivated by homophobia, which represents a 21% rise compared to 2019.
Of this total, 813 offenses (offense, defamation, and slander), 335 threats, and 237 physical aggressions were recorded.
The lack of official data about trans people causes problems for creating public policies. In Brazil, networks like the Brazilian Trans Institute of Education (IBTE, in Portuguese), Antra, and Trans Network (Rede Trans, in Portuguese) are the ones who collect data on the trans population.
Transempregos is an online platform that connects trans people to the job market. To its cofounder, trans woman Maite Schneider, trans people are not acknowledged as legitimate citizens who make part of Brazilian society.
“We need to have a national census that identifies trans people. The erasing of this group is attractive to the government, so they don’t need to invest in public policies”, she states.
To saleswoman Lunna Pompeu, also known as Titia Chiba, the lack of data mirrors the neglect towards the trans population.
“We must demand policies of prevention and social care. The country’s lack of data on trans people is a product of the omission of rights. In times like these calamitous ones, we are still unassisted.
According to Kaio Lemos, the neglect shows “Brazil’s transfemicide character".
“See the behavior of the current federal government: their jokes, the number of [covid] deaths, the violence. The best tool we have against it is to resist. We steel and search for public policies to go forward".
There are specific public and social policies that can be adopted to improve the lives of trans people in Brazil. According to Belo Horizonte’s councilor Duda Salabert, the first urgent area to look at is the job market.
“We must ensure that trans and queer people get jobs in the formal job market, because to us, prostitution is almost a compulsory activity. We need quotas in public services as well as campaigns to raise people’s awareness and tax breaks in the private sector to hire transgender people”.
Salabert is also a teacher and believes that deepening talks about transsexuality at schools in the medium and short terms is fundamental to combat the country's structural prejudice.
The Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights was asked about the lack of data on trans people, the lack of public policies, and the high numbers of transfemicide in the country. They did not respond at the time of publication.
Transphobia and intersectionality
The TGEU’s report data points out a worrying trend when talking about the combination of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and hate since most of the victims are black migrant women and trans sex workers.
In Brazil, data from Antra show that every 48 hours, one trans person dies. It is worth mentioning that 82% of trans victims are black people.
There were cruel practices, such as carbonization, stoning, and decapitation in 80% of the cases. Based on data collected in 2020, the report shows a systematic picture of dehumanization, as well as transfemicide in the country. They must be analyzed through class and race lens.
On July 2021, black-queer woman Paloma Amaral was tied and beaten inside a trunk in front of city guards at Teresina, Piauí’s capital city.
Trans black woman Gilmara Cunha, raised in a favela, is a psychologist and LGBTQIA+ activist in poor communities. She says that, in favelas, trans-black women are not seen as women at all. The vulnerability there, she says, is even worse.
“Favelas are places where sexism, transphobia, and prejudice are repeated. If the number of trans women murdered isn’t accurately quantified, in drug-controlled favelas, it's even worse", she points out.
“We are fighting for our right to exist, to live a worthy life. Because we resist, we have seen advances in public policies, but we are still a vulnerable group in society. In Brazil, to be trans means you fight to have something to eat. It means to be a disposable body in a heteronormative society, a society that kills our lives daily.
The murder, demonization, pathologization and stigmatization of trans bodies are managed by a process called cissexism, which, according to the researcher and transfeminist activist Viviane Vergueiro, consists of a set of silent and subtle norms that act as basis for the standardization of bodies.
Therefore, cissexism maintains cisgenders as the normal/natural model of being, excluding queers, trans men and women through discriminatory notions and actions, as transphobia and homophobia.
Although most of the victims of cissexist violence in the country are trans women, trans men also suffer aggressions and from transphobia, especially in the public sphere, with the abuse of power by security agents.
According to the 2021 report by the Brazilian Institute of Transmasculinities (Ibrat), UN, Race and Equality Institute and Trans Studies Magazine, 85.9% of respondents said that the public security system had transphobic attitudes towards them.
Still according to the data, there is a high transphobia rate against trans men, mainly in public spaces (78.2%), but also in domestic spaces (63.8%).
“It’s not only verbal transphobic violence in every social sector but also actions that don’t include us on public policies promoted and legitimized by the government. We are afraid of this fundamentalist transphobia we currently live in in Brazil”, says Kaio Lemos, one of the people responsible for the mapping of data.
Research by IE SOGI and UN, published in 2020, concluded that covid-19 has a disproportional impact on LGBT lives, and the effects of the pandemic propagate and expand the existing patterns of social exclusion and violence.
Likewise, the Antra report released in early 2021 and based on data from 2020 showed the worsening of these inequalities: about 70% of the queer and trans population did not have access to emergency policies.
To reduce the financial impact on the lives of transgender people, the NGO Transvest, coordinated by Duda Salabert, has created the Trans Minimum Income. The project distributed between BRL 100 to BRL 200 for 14 months to about 250 queer and trans people in the city of Belo Horizonte.
Maite Schneider states that the pandemic is a daily situation for trans people, because even before the pandemic, they did not have access to formal jobs, and society avoided them, keeping a certain distance from this population.
“Previously to the pandemic, trans people already were avoided. They weren’t invited to parties and events. Now, those who were beginning their careers in companies are being laid off en masse and ended up coming back to their relatives’ houses. Because some of them are not accepted as they are, they had to 'de-transition' ".
During lockdowns, Antra also highlighted the worsening of trans people’s mental health. In the first semester of 2020, 16 suicides were recorded. It represents a 34% rise compared to the same period of 2019.
According to Cunha, there is a lack of social support for trans people living in favelas, a situation worsened by the pandemic. “The Brazilian population is unequal. When dealing with trans bodies, it’s even worse. A lot of trans women couldn’t access the emergency aid for not having documents”.
Regarding suicides, the psychologist says prevention is the best tool, but there is difficulty in creating support networks for trans women.
"The issue is how can we can build a protection network for women being that the feminist movement does not acknowledge trans bodies as female bodies?”
Luana Pompeu states that some feminist groups do not accept trans women. “Many of them see us as a threat to feminism and its demands”.
According to data recorded by Antra in 2020, only 4% of the trans population have formal jobs with the possibility of promotion and career progression. A total of 90% of the trans and queer population have prostitution as their main source of income.
To Helena Vieira, prostitution is not the problem. “The fact of trans women being sex workers isn’t the problem. We must keep on fighting to professionalize and legalize this activity. Still, they should not have only prostitution as an option of work.
Despite the numbers, the insertion of this group in the job market improved, according to the job site Transempregos. The platform confirmed that 794 trans people were employed and 1,419 job vacancies were opened.
One of the companies that have been registered on the site for seven years, there are 1,300 trans professionals.
Queer, transgender women, and intersex women can report and seek help by calling 180 in case of violence motivated by gender. They can also contact the nearest Women's Police Station DEAM (Delegacia Especializada de Atendimento à Mulher or DEAM, in Portuguese).
Complaints against trans men and women can be made by calling 100, managed by the National Human Rights Ombudsman. The service is free and operates 24 hours a day, including holidays and weekends.
This news report was produced in partnership with Pulitzer Center.
Edited by: Leandro Melito