The incredible transformation of the São Paulo Pride Parade

. Jun 24, 2019
pride parade são paulo

Sunday afternoon in São Paulo and the walls of the subway stations of Paulista Avenue reverberated with the noise of protest chants. A clear instruction was being given to President Jair Bolsonaro—and it wasn’t a pleasant one. As soon as the crowd saw the light of day, however, music and chatter overwhelmed any political noise. It is São Paulo’s annual LGBT pride parade, and while the street holds some scattered signs reading “resist” and “democracy,” the most present visual is the ever-present rainbow flag. Outside of the subway doors, street vendors sell them for BRL 5 a piece.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This year marks the 23rd pride parade in São Paulo. 2019&#8217;s theme commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which sparked the beginning of pride parades in the U.S. and around the world. While the history of São Paulo&#8217;s Pride is much younger than the American parades that inspired it, it is by no means less impressive. </span></p> <h2>Enormous growth</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The first gay pride event, held in 1996, is described not as a parade, but a rally. Numbers are cited anywhere between five hundred and two thousand, but the fact remains that it seems small compared with the three million participants that the event now attracts every year. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Less than a decade after its inception, São Paulo’s parade was registered as the largest in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. This year&#8217;s pride parade had a total of 19 floats, and the event was sponsored by four large corporations: Burger King, Amstel, Uber, and Avon. The municipal government also invested BRL 1.8 million in infrastructure. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On average, the parade generates BRL 190 million each year and boosts tourism by ten percent over the weekend. According to the Observatory of Tourism and Events, the average tourist spends BRL 1,112.17 over their two-day stay. Over half of participants go to the parade because they enjoy it, while less than a third see it as a way to fight for LGBT rights. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The discussion of “pink money” and corporate participation in pride events is one that holds room for debate. It is clear, however, that the event is lucrative both for the city and businesses. </span></p> <h2>HIV/AIDS</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the late 1990s, Brazil was waking up from the nightmare of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Widely cited in the media as the “gay plague,” the virus </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">claimed</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> nearly 70,000 lives in São Paulo state alone by 1996, according to the records of the Ministry of Health. “All of the [gay] men that I knew&#8230;AIDS took them all,” Marise Louvison told the Museum of Sexual Diversity in a recorded interview. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Ms. Louvison, age 65, is one of the 12 people interviewed for the “Memories of Sexual Diversity” project. In these videos, interviewees discuss their memories of growing up as LGBT people in Brazil. There are a handful of common threads that run throughout all the interviews, but the epidemic is cited by each and every one. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil eventually implemented a public health initiative that is still used as a worldwide reference today. It was one of the first countries that made self-testing kits freely available and strategic condom dissemination helped place an emphasis on HIV prevention. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Nowadays, the initiatives take on a pharmaceutical character with the development of the preventative medication PreP and its post-exposure counterpart, PeP. These pills, which must be taken under prescription, can stop the transmission of HIV even after an individual has come into contact with the virus. The São Paulo Health Department set up a station in front of the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) during the parade, to distribute condoms and tests and inform the public about their treatment options. </span></p> <h2>The military dictatorship</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">From the streets of Mexico City to the market squares of Cologne, pride parades, inspired by riots in the U.S., sprung up across the globe during the 1970s. But Brazil, knee-deep in a repressive military dictatorship, had extra barriers to jumping on the trend. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, this is not to say that the LGBT movement wasn’t present. But, as historian Marisa Fernandes explains in her interview to the Museum for Sexual Diversity, the movement was largely hidden. “All I wanted to know was where [other LGBT people] were,” Ms. Fernandes says. She then went on to talk about her participation in the group </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Somos</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, the first LGBT rights organization in Brazil. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 1982, there was a protest specifically against José Wilson Richetti, a police commissioner who led violent raids against transexual people and sex workers in the city of São Paulo. However, it was only 11 years after the military dictatorship ended in 1985 that the first pride parades truly started.</span></p> <h2>Where are we now?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In May, the Supreme Court voted to <a href="">criminalize homophobia</a>. This is a step forward amongst several steps back. Just weeks before the court decision, President Jair Bolsonaro said that “Brazil can’t become the country of gay tourism.” He also opted to remove the LGBT concerns from the docket of the Ministry of Human Rights and pulled a commercial for Banco do Brasil that highlighted diversity and featured a trans actor. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The president’s homophobic comments certainly didn’t shut down the parade, however. “The nature of the parade may change … but now that [the LGBT community] feels empowered, it will be very difficult to take these rights away,” says Claudia Regina, co-president of the São Paulo LGBT Pride Parade Association, the NGO which organizes the event each year.

Juliana Costa

Juliana is a growth strategist and contributor to The Brazilian Report

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