Brazilian LGBTQ people fight prejudice through art

. May 04, 2019
marielle franco lgbtq Graffiti commemorating Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco, who was shot dead in an apparent assassination.

Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018 and took office in January 2019. Since then, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights has chosen to remove the legal protection status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) people. Some politicians are now pushing for a ban on discussing gender diversity and sexual orientation in schools.

Bathroom laws pertaining to which toilet facilities trans people are allowed to use, bills defining what constitutes a family, same-sex marriage, and laws enabling trans people to change their legal name are also seen to be under threat.

Brazil has been described as having the highest LGBTQ murder rate in the world—167 trans people were reported murdered between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018. During last year’s election campaign, a number of LGBT hate crimes were reported in the press.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is no wonder that many Brazilian LGBTQ people are worried they are becoming isolated from the rest of the world. Marielle Franco—a young left-wing politician who took a strong stance against police violence—was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in March 2018.</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She was a bisexual black woman who grew up in the Maré favela and pushed for social justice for marginalized people in the city. She was assassinated by professional killers.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In Brazil, military police patrol the streets and are independent of the civil police, who carry out investigations. In March 2019, a year after her murder, it was reported that two ex-military police had been arrested for the killing.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Theusa Passareli—a 21-year-old art student who identified as genderqueer, or non-binary—was murdered in April 2018, on their way home from a party.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Their work was incomplete in the State University of Rio de Janeiro’s design studio when I visited in November 2018 and remain there to commemorate their memory, as the university and the trans community mourn the murder of another young person.</span></p> <div id="attachment_16753" style="width: 764px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-16753" class="size-full wp-image-16753" src="" alt="Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli" width="754" height="566" srcset=" 754w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 754px) 100vw, 754px" /><p id="caption-attachment-16753" class="wp-caption-text">Resin on glass by Theusa Passareli. Catherine McNamara, Author provided</p></div> <h2>A safe place for LGBTQ to protest</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">I was in Rio for a short residency with the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">TransArte festival</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">—a three-day art show that explores gender identity and sexuality. The festival brings together trans people and allies to exchange ideas, make and share work, and celebrate the strengths of the LGBT community in Brazil within a place of safety.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It’s not easy to protest when faced with violence, nor is it easy to enjoy culture—particularly for people living in poverty where basic needs are difficult to meet. Trans artists have said that being trans is a barrier to participating in the arts, but “safe spaces” such as the TransArte festival allow protest art to flourish and create opportunities for LGBTQ people to express themselves.</span></p> <div id="attachment_16752" style="width: 764px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-16752" class="size-full wp-image-16752" src="" alt="Trans and LGBTQ artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London" width="754" height="503" srcset=" 754w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 754px) 100vw, 754px" /><p id="caption-attachment-16752" class="wp-caption-text">Trans and LGB artists, activists and educators from Rio de Janeiro and London. TransArte Festival Team, Author provided</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A theater company led by trans people created Come As You Are—a series of autobiographical stories with physical theatre and improvisation. The stories were about family, depicting supportive and loving families as a source of strength, and familial rejection as a result of being trans.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They explored life as trans men and women in a culture of toxic masculinity, normativity and police brutality. A photography exhibition of several artists included Bernardo de Castro Gomes, whose work also explored his identity as a black trans man facing intimidation, harassment and violence.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Queer drag artists such as Le Circo de la Drag spoke about their political performance, using their bodies to resist toxic masculinity and defy the threats of violence they often receive.</span></p> <div id="attachment_16754" style="width: 764px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-16754" class="size-full wp-image-16754" src="" alt="Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli" width="754" height="499" srcset=" 754w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 754px) 100vw, 754px" /><p id="caption-attachment-16754" class="wp-caption-text">Le Circo de la drag pay tribute to Marielle Franco and Theusa Passareli. Marianna Cartaxo, Author provided</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The show </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Monster, Whore, Bitch</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">—Waldirene’s Dreams, directed by Dandara Vital, compiled the everyday experiences of Brazilian trans people interwoven with a re-telling of the story of Waldirene – the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Brazil in December 1971, at the height of the military dictatorship.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Resistance is clearly flourishing in Brazil against the odds and not only within festivals such as TransArte. A Portuguese translation of Jo Clifford’s play The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven was due to open in Londrina, a city in southern Brazil, but the venue canceled at the very last moment.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The lead, a trans woman called Renata Carvalho, received death threats. The company moved to a semi-derelict space where they performed by torchlight instead, despite injunctions from both Pentecostal and Catholic groups to </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">stop the production</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">My own experiences working with the TransArte festival team in Rio have shown me the value of safe places free from judgment and hostility. The people we worked with told us that being there in solidarity with the trans communities of Rio felt like a powerful action in itself, resisting the culture of violence that thrives in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> </span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="size-medium wp-image-398 alignleft" src="" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" srcset=" 300w, 768w, 1024w" alt="the conversation brazil article" width="300" height="24" /></p> <h6 style="text-align: right;">Originally published on<br /> <a href=""><strong>The Conversation</strong></a></h6> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">

Catherine McNamara

Catherine McNamara co-founded and is a Trustee for Gendered Intelligence. She received funding from the British Council to support the residency in Brazil.

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