Bars, movie theaters, hotels and other commerce catering
exclusively to gays are doing brisk business in Brazil. A marketing research
concluded that 10% of Rio’s population is gay. This new economic power
is also forcing the doors of prejudice in the country.
By Divya Shukla
Is there room for pink and purple among the green, yellow, white and
blue colors of the Brazilian flag? Maybe. Brazil is a country of contrasts:
a religious carpet danced-on by sexual liberation. How does this environment
treat its homosexual population?
Brazilian businesses, covered by a veil of dollar signs, have set aside
prejudices by supplying a record number of services aimed to cater to those
with homosexual preferences. On the other hand, Congress, the Church and
the population, at large, haven’t been as inviting. There are many barriers
to be broken, even in a country as seemingly accepting of everything (and
everyone) as Brazil.
Brazilian anthropologist Luiz Mott concluded that Zumbi, leader of runaway
slave colonies referred to as Quilombos, that lived 300 years ago, was
a homosexual. This theory didn’t please Luiz Mott’s neighbors who responded
by defacing the front wall of his house with graffiti and breaking the
windshield of his car. Mott, resides in Salvador, the capital of Bahia,
a Brazilian state mostly populated by descendants of African slaves.
Mott is the President and founder of Grupo Gay da Bahia (a congregation
for Bahia’s gay population). The association was conceived in 1979 after
an episode of physical assault involving Mott, a male friend and a homophobic
individual who inferred that Mott and his friend might have been gay lovers
engaged on a romantic walk along the beach.
Luiz Mott’s credentials are impressive. He obtained a doctorate at Unicamp,
in the city of Campinas, in Anthropology and has a master’s degree in Ethnic
Studies from Sorbonne, in France. He authored eight books based on studies
about homosexuality, feminism and racism. Even though he is openly gay,
he had a heterosexual phase from which he has two daughters. He remarried
in 1994 to another male in a ceremony performed in Salvador (The priest
that performed the ceremony returned to a house that had been set on fire).
In a May of 1995 interview with Veja magazine, Mott said that
the reaction to his controversial conclusion about Zumbi doesn’t come as
a surprise. There are those that see a contradiction between Zumbi’s courage
(viewed as a masculine trait) and his alleged homosexuality (viewed as
a softened masculinity). Mott believes that these sort of studies are imperative
to dispel notions that homosexuality is a trend, a phase or that it is
a trait of the weaker segments of the population. It is a matter of finding
heroes, or role models for the homosexual population.
Homosexuality is lucrative in Brazil. This is evidenced by the number
of bars, movie theaters, hotels and other businesses that cater exclusively
to the homosexual segment of the population. The homosexual population
is considered to be "big spenders" perhaps due to the fact that
most are professionals who don’t have children and tend to display a taste
for expensive things.
Rio has already discovered this source of money, and in its lust for
Reais, Copacabana is erecting The Ball Club Tower, an entertainment complex
dedicated exclusively to pleasures suited for homosexuals, at an estimated
cost of $1.5 million.
Paulo Magno, owner of Maxima, sells T-shirts that celebrate homosexual
pride sporting phrases such as "I’m gay, if you don’t believe me,
kiss me" and "I’m not gay, but my boyfriend is". Paulo Magno
says that his business has no political objectives (he is heterosexual).
Another businessman Alex Halter, homosexual, is the mastermind behind
the Ball Club & Tower. This project will encompass a variety of options
for gays such as hotel rooms, bars, clubs, restaurants, saunas, gym, stores,
drugstores and a tourism agency. He believes that he’ll recover his investment
in one year. Alex Halter isn’t a novice in this field, he owned a disco
and a gay magazine during his stay in Switzerland and then he owned the
Ball, a gay Copacabana nightclub. Alex Halter enlisted the services of
a marketing firm prior to commencing the Ball Club & Tower project.
The marketing research concluded that 10% of Rio’s population is gay and
that their consumption preferences are, in descending order, clothing,
bars, sound equipment, personal beauty products and restaurants.
American credit agencies also recognize the purchasing power of the
gay community. The Rainbow Card is a credit card aimed at gay customers.
The Gay consumer is known to be a big spender. According to Álvaro
Bezerra de Mello, president of Hotel and Tourism Association, gays spend
on average $160 dollars for a daily tour of Rio, whereas an American tourist
might spend $130.
Fantastic Tours, a tourism agency based in Rio, designs most of its
tour packages to please the gay traveler because most of its clients happen
to be homosexual. One such package is the Gay Paris. The Gay Paris tour
introduces foreigners to the best that Paris has to offer to its homosexual
visitor. At a cost of $1,320 (excluding air fare) and a duration of eight
days and six nights, one will dine at the most famous gay restaurant in
Paris, the Amazianiol, then stay at the Hotel Latitudes Saint Germain,
among other pleasures.
Lack of dependents (children) provides the gay person with a lessened
financial burden and greater time availability for frequent travel. Schedule
restrictions, such as travel only during school vacations, become non-existent.
This is evidenced by the occupancy rate of hotels on islands along the
coast of Rio, such as Angra dos Reis and Búzios. Hotels on these
islands are occupied, on weekends, by mostly homosexual clientele.
Nélson Feitosa recognized this new phenomenon in Brazil and created
the magazine Sui Generis after relinquishing his job in a printing
shop. The magazine was started as a partnership between Feitosa and his
lover, José Vítor, and in one year’s time it experienced
an increase in circulation from 1,500 readers to 30,000 readers which is
the circulation level of Vogue in Brazil.
Brazilian business is not an innovator in catering its services to homosexuals.
American businesses have earned, on average, $17 billion from services
that cater to homosexual customers. Recently, advertisement has became
bolder by exhibiting gay ads such as an Ikea (a furniture store) ad in
which a couple (two males) are buying a dining table, and other similar
ads by American Express, albeit most of these ads are in magazines with
a gay circulation.
In May of 1995, Miami held a city-tour offered to representatives of
17 European gay magazines. And in September, the tour was offered to 18
representatives of American magazines. José Lima, spokesperson of
the Convention & Tourism of Miami, says that this isn’t based on political
or ideological positions, it is basically based on the acquisition power
of the gay community.
Other states in the United States are in accord. New York’s West Village
offers a variety of bars and nightclubs aimed at the gay clientele. These
businesses prefer the homosexual customer evidenced by the placement of
rainbow-colored flags, the international icon for homosexuality, outside
of these establishments.
Cinema is following the bandwagon as well. TopCine Cobacabana, in Rio,
shows films with gay themes every Thursday, such as Priscilla Queen of
the Desert and Fried Green Tomatoes.
Luciana Villas-Boas, editor-in-chief of the publishing company Record
has created a department dedicated exclusively to publications with gay
themes, called Contraluz.
The Safe Bar is not just another trendy bar in Rio. Safe Bar’s manager
Paulo Henrique Longo is also the president of Noss (Núcleo de Orientação
em Saúde Social — Nucleus of Orientation in Social Health), which
serves to promote safe sex practices and the prevention of AIDS in Brazil.
Longo decorated each of Safe Bar’s interior walls with posters with anti-AIDS
propaganda in order to educate the bar’s clientele. The Safe Bar’s customers
also have access to an unlimited supply of condoms strategically placed
on each table.
GAY & GAY
What about marriage? Is the government as open-minded as Brazilian businessmen
are? There is a request pending in congressional bureaucracy which aims
to legalize homosexual unions, albeit legalized marriage among same-sex
partners might not be a reality in Brazil any time soon — this is a universal
For instance, Toni Reis and David Harrad faced permanent separation
when Harrad’s visa expired. Harrad, a citizen of England, and Reis had
lived together for six years. The couple became so desperate that Reis’
mother, a widow, offered to marry Harrad. Fortunately, the organization
Dignidade intervened by offering Harrad both, a job and a visa.
The National Association of Bishops has voiced strong opposition against
any recognition of gay unions. Archbishop of Fortaleza, Aloisio Lorscheider,
in an interview with daily newspaper O Estado de São Paulo,
said that homosexual unions are against the laws of nature. Archbishop
Lorscheider is one of the leaders of the National Conference of Brazilian
Bishops (CNBB). The CNBB has been outspoken in its criticism against the
request in congress to legalize gay unions.
Brazil, similar to the United States and many other nations in the world,
is having difficulties suppressing its homosexual population. Political
correctness, lucrative sales from products to gays and tolerance are clashing
with religion, intolerance and closed-mindedness! Which side will prevail?
This remains to be seen.