January 24, 2019 / 11:24 PM / 6 months ago

Gay congressman flees Brazil, citing death threats

(The January 24 story corrects the second paragraph to reflect Wyllys is the second openly gay congressman, adds paragraph on the first)

By Oscar Lopez

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A prominent gay congressman in Brazil announced on Thursday that he was leaving his job and fleeing the country because of increased death threats made against him. 

Jean Wyllys, the country’s second openly gay congressman, told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that he had left Brazil and was going to work in academia, with no plans to return home. 

“Preserving a life under threat is also a strategy to fight for better days,” Wyllys wrote on Twitter with a link to the article. 

“We have done much for the common good. And we will do much more when the new era arrives, and it doesn’t matter that we do it by other means! Thank you to all of you with all my heart.”

Wyllys, who was re-elected to a third term in parliament last October, had received numerous death threats in the past, but according to the report in Folha, these had intensified significantly since the killing last March of Wyllys’ close friend Marielle Franco, a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman. 

A representative from Wyllys’ communication team told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the congressman would not be giving interviews for safety reasons, and would not reveal Wyllys’ current location. 

The news provoked dismay among Brazilian LGBT+ rights activists, many of whom saw Wyllys as a leader in the fight for gay rights, particularly under President Jair Bolsonaro, who has become well known for his homophobic comments.

“I understand his decision, but I am very sorry that we are going through this situation,” Luis Arruda, a prominent LGBT+ activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It’s regrettable that an elected parliamentarian felt so pressured, and so emotionally hurt, that he had to leave his country. It’s really sad.” 

Wyllys was an outspoken critic of the president prior to Bolsonaro’s election win last year, and had clashed with him numerous times in parliament.

The most notable incident occurred during the heated impeachment hearings of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, when Wyllys spit on then-congressman Bolsonaro. 

Following Bolsonaro’s presidential victory in October, Wyllys said that the rate of violence in Brazil, particularly against LGBT people, has increased significantly, to the point where he felt compelled to leave the country.

“It was not Bolsonaro’s election itself. It was the level of violence that has increased since he was elected,” Wyllys told Folha.

Wyllys is set to be replaced in parliament by David Miranda, another openly gay politician who is currently serving as a member of the Rio de Janeiro city council and belongs to Wyllys’ Socialism and Liberty Party.

Miranda, another outspoken critic of Bolsonaro, has promised to defend LGBT+ rights in Brazil under the current administration.

“The LGBT community is always struggling - in every country in this world,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“With this government it’s not going to be any different. We’re going to have to learn to hold the rights we were able to obtain over the years. But at the same time, we have to struggle to sustain our survival.”

Reporting by Oscar Lopez; Editing by Jason Fields; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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