WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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31 May 2019 | Commentary

Brazilian Congress Takes Steps to Address Crimes against LGBTQ People, Former Congressman Highlights Minorities are Under Attack

By Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli and Nicola Worcman

On May 23rd, after five sessions, the Brazilian Supreme Court took steps towards making homophobia a crime. The court ruled that homophobia must be included within the framework of Brazil’s anti-racism law until the country’s Congress can approve specific legislation to address homophobic crimes. In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Brazilian Senate Commission of Constitution and Justice (CCJ) overwhelmingly approved a bill with 672 votes in favor and 9 against, that would amend Brazil’s anti-racism law so it now includes both homophobia and transphobia as crimes. While this is a positive move on the part of the Brazilian legislature to criminalize anti-LGBTQ crimes, there is no guarantee that the measure will be finalized in the Congress nor that Brazil’s right-wing and openly homophobic President Jair Bolsonaro will support it. It is, however, important that measures to protect LGBTQ Brazilians’ physical safety and their rights are advanced in Brazil at this time. The inhospitable climate generated by Bolsonaro’s statements against LGBTQ emboldens those who wish to harm members of this community.

Right now, crimes committed against LGBTQ people do not form part of Brazilian Federal law. Rather, it is up to individual states to set the penalties for these crimes. Since 2012, defenders of LGBTQ rights groups have advocated for this to change. They pressed for last week’s vote and are demanding that the Supreme Court asks the Brazilian Congress to set a date for a final vote on the proposed bill 672-19 that changes the anti-racism law criminalizing homophobia and transphobia.

Violent rhetoric and attacks against LGBTQ people in Brazil are not a new issue. During his campaign, President Jair Bolsonaro said that he would did not discriminate against LGBTQ people, but if he saw two men kissing, he would punch them. Once in office, he issued executive orders to diminish protections and services for LGBTQ people and other minorities. Bolsonaro’s Human Rights, Women, and Family Ministry’s mandate does not include LGBTQ community concerns. This means that Brazilian Trans and gender-diverse population are at a huge risk. Last year, Brazil had the highest number of crimes committed against Transgender people in the world, with the country accounting for 167 crimes of the total 369 cases reported.

No official data from the Brazilian government exists regarding Trans and homophobic crimes in the country. A report released by the Gay Group of Bahia (Grupo Gay da Bahia, GGB), stated that every 23 hours, one LGBTQ person is killed in Brazil. According to GGB, from January 2019 to May 2019, or since Bolsonaro took office, 126 LGBTQ individuals were murdered. This is a 14% increase compared to the same period in 2018. This trend is likely to increase unless the international community exerts pressure on the Bolsonaro administration.

In January, the first openly gay congressman in Brazil, Jean Wyllys, announced that rather than taking his seat for a third term in Congress he was being forced to flee the country due to death threats. His security situation significantly deteriorated after Bolsonaro was elected. Indeed, many progressive politicians have faced security problems since Afro-Brazilian and openly queer Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Marielle Franco was brutally assassinated on March 14, 2018.

In May 2019, Jean Wyllys spoke at WOLA about his motivations for leaving the country and his view of LGBTQ rights in Brazil. The former federal congressman is one of the most visible national figures in the fight against homophobia, intolerance, religious fundamentalism, racism, slave labor, and violence against women. At this talk, Wyllys discussed the hostile political dynamics that led to his departure, as well as the current efforts to dismantle human rights protections in Brazil. Bolsonaro’s attacks against Wyllys have a long history with Bolsonaro who aggressively attacked Wyllys for who he is and what he fights for during his stint in the Brazilian Congress. Bolsonaro’s attacks on Wyllys centered around dissemination of fake news and hate speech through social media led by Bolsonaro and his supporters, causing damage to the politician to the point of becoming untenable with Bolsonaro as President.

According to Wyllys, Bolsonaro’s fondness for homophobic and racist rhetoric hugely impacted Brazil’s electoral process. The President’s hate speech has led to a proliferation of hate against minorities, especially LGBTQ and feminists in the country. It has also resulted in an exponential increase of violence against these communities since the election. Brazil is already known for enduring high rates of femicide and it has the biggest rates of transphobic death crimes in the world.

Jean Wyllys noted that false and manipulated information on social media also plays a role in fomenting a backlash against LGBTQ people. In Brazil, he stated, fake news spreads quickly because it appeals to sectors of society whose identity is tied to so-called family values that paint LGBTQ people in opposition to their notion of family. According to Wyllys, Bolsonaro tapped into misperceptions and prejudices that exist within Brazil against people of color, LGBTQ people, and feminists. Fake news and information was manipulate by Bolsonaro and his supporters for political gain. Doing this, transformed minorities into the enemies of the Brazilian society.

Wyllys highlighted that the human rights rollback is not limited to LGBTQ Brazilians. Bolsonaro has also directed his efforts against the indigenous population, placing them in great danger. He refuses to further the demarcation of reservation lands for the indigenous population and recently dismantled the Indigenous Affairs Agency (FUNAI) that was in charge of these communities’ welfare. The backlash against indigenous communities is compounded by the President’s repeated denial of how climate change is linked to the Amazon and its indigenous populations. Wyllys expressed concern about the fact that at least seven indigenous leaders were killed by illegal miners and loggers emboldened by Bolsonaro’s discourse and permissiveness since he took office. Wyllys stressed that attacks against the indigenous and weakening of environmental protections will have negative effects that go beyond the borders of Brazil.

While Brazil’s Supreme Court and Senate have moved in the right direction to protect LGBTQ communities, more push back is required from the international community to help curb the violence against this population. Wyllys emphasized the need to amplify the voices of those victims of such acts and U.S. civil society and its Congress can play a very important role in this fight