Brazilian President Takes Her Country Back to the Closet on LGBT rights

Dilma Rousseff and the LGBT community LGBT rights activists have burgeoned onto the scene of civil society movements across Latin America in recent decades. A topic far too often forgotten by politicians, media outlets, and academics, they are an integral part of the continuing efforts to fortify democratic institutions and broaden social inclusion throughout the Americas.

Most notably, Brazil, a country that has been receiving increasing attention for its unprecedented economic growth and investment in human development, has continuously slipped under the radar of international watchdogs in its failure to protect and defend the rights of LGBT citizens.

President Dilma Rousseff, who enjoys overwhelming popularity and a strong presence in both the domestic and international political spheres, lies at the helm of this neglect. Departing dramatically from her predecessor, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ms. Rousseff has refused personal meetings with any leading members of national LGBT organizations, including those who compose the government-sponsored National Council on LGBT Discrimination (National Council).

Clinging to fears of retaliation from parliament’s Evangelical Front, an increasingly influential group of elected officials who pertain to the president’s governing coalition and acquired nearly seventy seats in the 2010 congressional elections, she has repeatedly failed to meet her promises to the LGBT community.

Political calculations aside, LGBT Brazilians remain victims to systematic threats of violence and discrimination – including rape, intimidation, police brutality, and murder.

Most recently, Sheila da Silva, a 24-year-old travesti sex worker, was killed after a former client repeatedly ran her over with his car and dragged her body several blocks through a São Paulo parking lot a few days ago.

Several months earlier, twin brothers walking arm-in-arm in a small rural town in the state of Bahia, misperceived to be a gay couple, were brutally attacked to the point of concussion, with only one of them ultimately surviving.

These occurrences are not uncommon or unknown to the Brazilian LGBT community, yet their victims often remain silenced and forgotten.

Excelling beyond the president’s negligible commitment to the movement, LGBT activists in Brazil have made greater strides of progress than ever before. Circumventing Ms. Rousseff’s inaction on same-sex marriage, they successfully won the right to same-sex civil unions in a landmark Supreme Court decision in May 2011, and continue to enter the courts with demands for recognition of fully equal marriage rights.

They broke electoral records this year with the highest number ever of openly LGBT candidates running in municipal elections across the country, reaching a total of over 150 contenders.

In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, they won the right for transgender people to change their legal name in accordance with their gender identity, without having to undergo invasive sex change operations and psychological evaluations, a daunting reality that remains in tact throughout the rest of Brazil.[1]

In another groundbreaking development, they will hold the country’s first-ever National Black LGBT Seminar in Salvador this November, launching activists and academics into crucial conversations about the intersections of racism and anti-LGBT discrimination.

In spite of their outstanding accomplishments, Ms. Rousseff has continuously failed to take conclusive action against the tragic incidences of violence plaguing the LGBT community, enabled in light of the international community’s complete disengagement from LGBT discrimination in Brazil.

In a groundbreaking report released by the Presidential Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH-PR) in July, there were a record total of 6,809 human rights violations against Brazilian LGBTs in 2011, including 278 homicides.

Widely considered to be one of the highest rates of anti-LGBT violence in the world, these figures prompted minimal reaction from members of the Inter-American community who routinely denounce similarly horrendous statistics, such as the outrageously high homicide rates in Venezuela and northern Central America.

Similar to these instances, an overwhelming 27.5% of the victims were between 15 and 29 years old, further surpassed by a dramatically high 50.5% of victims whom identified as transsexual or transgender.

While similar atrocities in the United States, Chile, and other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere have led to the creation of anti-hate crime legislation, no such effort has occurred under the Rousseff administration.

On the contrary, a proposed anti-discrimination bill that would expand existing laws to protect LGBT people, known as PLC 122, has been pending congressional approval in its various versions since 2001.

Aside from failing to introduce a legislative agenda, officials from Ms. Rousseff’s administration announced at the National Council’s last meeting in July that they would be abandoning their promise from earlier this year to issue a federal plan of action aimed at institutionalizing best practices in federal agencies and preventing discrimination. They cited intergovernmental bureaucracy as the cause for this unjustifiable reversal.

In response to this dismaying news, national council member Janaína Oliveira, representative of the National Black LGBT Network (Rede Nacional de Negras e Negros LGBT) proclaimed, “While [politicians] cite the need to wait for elections, the [LGBT] population continues to be assassinated, coerced, and humiliated in their own schools, public spaces, and homes.”

To worsen the already horrific reality, Ms. Rousseff has taken no action to eradicate the institutionalized nature of discrimination that foments a culture of anti-LGBT violence. Rather, she revoked a pro-LGBT educational program in May of last year, developed by the Ministry of Education, that was to be distributed to all public primary schools throughout the country. Days before its scheduled release, she deemed it “propaganda for sexual preference.”

President Rousseff’s attitude toward LGBT rights is reprehensible, considering her duty to the people of Brazil, as well as her prime leadership as one of the world’s most powerful women and defenders of human rights.

A victim of repression as a political prisoner under Brazil’s military regime, and leader of a nation which aspires to hold a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, her absolute disregard for LGBT rights is deceitful at the very least.

Activists will undoubtedly continue in their fearless battle, demanding basic rights and protections from society. But no matter what action they take, the decision to lead her nation and the world to progress will remain in Ms. Rousseff’s hands.

Adam Frankel is currently conducting Human Rights research on Afro-Brazilian transgender women for international advocacy group Global Rights in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His Twitter account is @DivineAdam. This article was published originally in Foreign Affairs LatinoAmérica:


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