RECIFE, Brazil (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Jair Bolsonaro’s election as Brazilian president has sparked deep concerns within the country’s gay and trans community about a future under a leader with a history of homophobia.
In 2011, Bolsonaro told a reporter he would prefer his son to “die in a car crash” than be gay. Two years later, he called himself a “proud homophobe”.
In April this year, Bolsonaro was charged with inciting hatred by a Brazilian attorney general.
For LGBT+ people living in Brazil, his victory signals a potential U-turn in the advance of rights for gay and trans people that occurred under the previous administration.
“Bolsonaro indicates, in all his actions, that he will withdraw rights, so hard won, and will strengthen the persecution of the [LGBT+] population,” said park administrator Giovani Feitosa in Recife in the northeast of Brazil.
The precarious status of gay and trans people in the country reflects the contradictions inherent in the world’s fourth-largest democracy, which hosts thriving gay scenes in most major cities.
The annual Pride Parade in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, rivals New York as the biggest in the world, and one of the country’s most popular pop stars, Pabllo Vittar, is an openly gay drag queen – and fierce critic of the new president.
Yet many gay and trans people are reluctant to be “out” in public.
“We can’t show any kind of affection in some places simply because we are afraid of suffering violence, be it verbal and/or physical,” Renan Alves, a scientific researcher from São Paulo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Homophobia is common, particularly in rural areas, leading many gay and trans people to migrate to cities.
Brazil is a deeply religious country. The Catholic Church is frequently critical of gay rights as is the country’s growing evangelical Christian movement.
During the campaign, Bolsonaro frequently espoused extreme right-wing views, tapping into his supporters’ unease at the perceived spread of liberalism.
His conservative stance chimed with many influential figures, including famous footballers and evangelical Christians, who make up 20 percent of the population and represent a powerful bloc in Brazil’s Congress.
Bolsonaro cited the example of a “gay kit”, which he claimed – with no evidence – that his chief opponents, the Workers’ Party (PT), would introduce into schools in order to turn children into homosexuals.
Under the previous PT administration, which was in power between 2003 and 2016, the government legalized adoption for same-sex couples in 2010.
It also created a Human Rights Ministry, which oversaw the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013.
But many fear the newly elected former army captain could reverse these advances.
“His victory is already encouraging and legitimizing countless acts of violence throughout the country,” said Recife-based small business owner Paula, who requested her surname not be used.
“We are alarmed and afraid – not only of losing our legal rights, but of losing our freedom and our lives,” she said.
Civil rights group Movimento LGBT Leões do Norte expressed concern about “the election of religious fundamentalists and ultra-conservatives into posts that interfere directly with policies to combat prejudice and violence (against LGBT+ people)”.
Attacks on the LGBT+ community remain high, despite the introduction of more liberal legislation.
According to Brazilian rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia there were 445 reported killings of LGBT+ people in 2017 – a 30 percent increase on the previous year.
In the immediate run-up to the election, Jéssica Gonzaga, a trans woman, was murdered in São Paulo.
“Our struggle against this is daily,” said magazine advertising executive Raíssa Medeiros.
Bolsonaro’s election will “affirm and legitimize this violence, giving support to crimes of homophobia”, she added.
Others are opting for more desperate ways of escaping the new government under the president-elect.
For part-time teacher Norman Monteiro, Bolsonaro’s victory was the final straw. He now intends to leave the country before the new government comes into power in January.
“I have friends in Spain,” he said. “Brazil is only going to become more dangerous.”
Reporting by Kaspar Loftin @Kas_pah; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Lyndsay Griffiths. 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