Bolsonaro and the Future of Brazilian LGBT+ Rights
Note: This piece deals with themes and descriptions of violence against members of the LGBT+ community.
When the news that Jair Bolsonaro would likely become the next president of Brazil hit, actress Ellen Page took to Instagram with a drawing of the slogan “Ele Não”, meaning “not him”. Page, who has become an increasingly outspoken advocate for LGBT+ rights the last several years, and who is openly lesbian, already had reason to speak out about Bolsonaro. Her reasons, however, were even more personal. In 2016, Page and her friend Ian Daniel, who is also openly gay, sat down with Bolsonaro to discuss his anti-LGBT+ stance. The interview took place during the Brazil episode of Page and Daniel’s Viceland documentary series, Gaycation. To take another look at life for LGBT+ individuals living in Brazil, I will revisit this episode, and examine what Bolsonaro’s presidency will mean for the future of the LGBT+ community in Brazil.
Gaycation is a documentary series that premiered in 2016. In each episode, Ellen Page and her friend Ian Daniel travel to a different country to meet members of the LGBT+ community and learn what life is like for LGBT+ individuals around the world. Page and Daniel frequently put themselves in uncomfortable, painful, and potentially dangerous situations to try to gain a better understanding of why many people are so ardently anti-LGBT+. The Brazil episode of the show stood out as one of the most upsetting and difficult episodes.
Page introduces Brazil as one of the most progressive countries in South America in terms of legal rights for LGBT+ people, but quickly points out that Brazil simultaneously has the highest LGBT+ murder rate in the world, a number that increased in 2017. Page and Daniel arrive in Brazil during Carnival, a time of year when many LGBT+ people travel to Rio to join in the celebration. In the midst of the festivities, however, the LGBT+ community was still grieving the murder of Piu de Silva, a 25-year-old transwoman, and samba dancer, who was tortured and shot. Her murderers filmed her begging for her life, and her body was discovered several days later.
After Carnival, Page and Daniel also meet with Parliament Member Jean Wyllis, Brazil’s only openly gay politician, and to advocate for legal protections. Wyllis points out that 300 LGBT+ people were murdered in Brazil in the previous year, and expresses concern over the rise of Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who bases his anti-LGBT+ views in a so-called return to Christian values. Bolsonaro’s rise comes alongside a rising population of conservative Christians, many of whom have adopted Bolsonaro as their political leader.
In his meeting with Page, Bolsonaro quickly asserts that he is not a homophobe, despite a history of clearly homophobic statements, including advocating for the beating of gay children. Page brings up her concerns that Bolsonaro’s views are leading to the deaths of LGBT+ individuals, and worries about his growing influence. Later in the episode, Page and Daniel meet anonymously with a cop who claims to have murdered many LGBT+ people because of their sexuality, and it is clear that these are the behaviors Page warned Bolsonaro he may be encouraging.
Despite all of the struggles LGBT+ people in Brazil endure, Brazil seems to have a strong community, one that has created organizations to help protect and elevate LGBT+ rights. From an organization for transgender sex workers, and a trans actress who is breaking barriers on Brazilian television, to a pride parade in a favela, it is clear that the LGBT+ community in Brazil will persist. Still, the future of LGBT+ rights in Brazil is very unclear right now, and LGBT+ rights will surely come under attack in Bolsonaro’s administration. Bolsonaro’s opponent, Fernando Haddad, a member of the Workers’ Party, supported the expansion of protections for LGBT+ individuals but lacked the name recognition to be elected, and ran under an unpopular party. What is certain from the wave of protests following the presidential election, and from Gaycation, is that Bolsonaro will likely be met with widespread resistance.