Despite advances, Brazil is still a dangerous place to be LGBTQ

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Despite advances, Brazil is still a dangerous place to be LGBTQ

Violence against LGBTQ people remains high. Photo: Getty

Earlier this year, Brazil passed radical legislation allowing trans individuals to use their social names –the names which they are known by, rather than those on their birth certificates – on identity cards without first undergoing gender reassignment surgery. The move, which came after concentrated mobilization efforts from the trans community, has been widely praised.

“This was a huge advance that we were able to make in the Supreme Court,” said Dr. Gisele Alessandra Schmidt e Silva, a member of the Brazilian Lawyers’ Association’s sexual and gender diversity commission and a recent speaker at Brazil Conference at Harvard & MIT.

Schmidt, who was the first transsexual in Brazilian history to give a speech in the Supreme Court, lobbied hard to introduce the social name legislation. “It’s important exactly because it will mean avoiding the discomfort that invariably ends up violating a person’s dignity,” she explained to The Brazilian Report.

But violence against Brazil’s LGBTQ population remains shockingly high. A total of 445 deaths made 2017 the deadliest year since NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia began monitoring 38 years ago. Moreover, those numbers already represent a 30 percent increase from the previous year, and this year shows no signs of being different according to the NGO’s founder, anthropologist Luiz Mott.

“The statistics [for 2018] are unforeseeable,” Mott told The Brazilian Report, although he remains concerned that the incremental year-on-year increases in violence against LGBTQ Brazilians shows no signs of abating. “This recent increase is related to the general increase in crime in Brazil – the country is the fifth most violent in the world, but it is the most violent in terms of crimes against the LGBTQ population. It’s an incredibly worrying situation.”

In addition to Brazil’s alarming numbers of LGBTQ deaths, trans deaths – including both transvestite and transgender – accounted for 179 of the violent deaths counted by Grupo Gay da Bahia in 2017. So far in 2018, there have been 153 violent LGBTQ deaths across Brazil, including 62 gay men and 58 trans people. All deaths recorded in monitoring, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia, are related to or motivated by LGBTQ-phobia.

“You always have to take into account that trans people account for one million Brazilians, while there are 20 million gays,” said Mott. “So the risk for a trans person to be murdered is actually much higher than the chances of a gay person being murdered.”

One step forwards, two steps back

Being granted the right to use a social name is an improvement, and it is not the only one. For the first time, the southern city of Porte Alegre saw its first transsexual city councilwoman, Luísa Stern, who took up the position on March 7, 8 and 9 in place of a colleague. And trans women are stepping into the spotlight in popular culture, with top Rio de Janeiro samba school Salgueiro including its first trans muse and infamous beauty pageant Miss Bumbum set to feature two trans contestants.

“It’s a huge step, but beyond this, there’s still a lot of things that we don’t have any specific legislation for,” explained Schmidt. Brazil is praised for having great legislation across many areas, such as environmental and indigenous protection, but is frequently criticised for failing to adequately implement it.

According to Schmidt, the same cannot be said for Brazil’s approach to trans rights. When it comes to trans rights, she told The Brazilian Report, most of the legislation doesn’t exist in the first place. “The legislative powers in Brazil simply don’t even propose laws to protect us.”

For all the advances and steps towards formal recognition and inclusion, examples of norms to the contrary abound. Trans inclusion in the formal jobs market remains a problem, meaning that many – particularly transvestites – can find few alternatives to sex work. Trans women still face the possibility of being placed in male prisons, putting them at risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

Additionally, the death toll continues to rise, which researchers believe is linked to impunity for crimes against LGBTQ Brazilians. “Impunity strengthens daily violence. The criminal kills today and with a habeas corpus is released,” LGBTQ activist Genilson Coutinho explained to Agência Brasil. “Every day a family is split apart by the death of LGBTQ children.”

The general lack of legislative efforts to combat LGBTQ-phobia adds to stigma and thereby contributes to impunity for violent crimes against LGBTQ Brazilians. “Brazil hasn’t yet approved any federal law against LGBTQ-phobia,” said Mott. “It’s an extremely worrying situation.”

Part of a regional trend

Brazil had the highest cumulative number of LGBTQ murders between 2008 and June 2016 out of its regional neighbors, according to data from Transrespect versus Transphobia (TvT), a research initiative from NGO Transgender Europe. Brazil’s total reached 868 violent trans deaths over this eight-year period – over than 600 more than Mexico, which has the second highest total.

Although Brazil is also Latin America’s most populous country, TvT’s numbers reflect a wider trend across the region. In relative numbers over the same period, Brazil’s LGBTQ murder rate sits at 4.33 per every million inhabitants, while Honduras occupies the top spot with 9.92 per million inhabitants.

Worryingly, TvT’s findings also showed that more than half of the victims of trans murders committed in Europe are Brazilian citizens. In many cases, they have left Brazil after being kicked out of their homes and struggling with everything from healthcare and education to employment. However, they are often victims of violence, extortion and more because they do not have residential rights.

Cultural factors are at play in Brazil, with Christian fundamentalism and social conservativism continuing to stigmatize LGBTQ populations. Traditional approaches to gender roles and norms also play a large part in constructing attitudes. In a 2016 Human Rights Commission report, head of Brazil’s National LGBTQ Association Dr. Toni Reis said that the country’s “high incidence of hate-motivated attacks [is] in large due to the culture of ‘machismo’ which is intolerant of gender nonconformity and frequently responds to it with acts of violence”.

“The first thing [needed in Brazil] is education about sex, gender, sexual orientation, and identity,” said Mott. “Secondly, we need legislation that punishes LGBTQ-phobia like it punishes racism. Thirdly, the solution to combatting crime is public policies that guarantee LGBTQ Brazilians the rights to citizenship and security.” However, Mott feels that Brazil still has a long way to go.

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About the author

Ciara Long

Based in Rio de Janeiro, Ciara focuses on covering human rights, culture, and politics.