LGBTQ Activists in Brazil are Bracing for the Worst After Jair Bolsonaro’s Presidential Win

It’s 2018, but many in Brazil feel the nation has just returned to 1964, when a brutal military dictatorship took hold of the country.

Over 57 million people voted to elect Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s next president at the end of October, shocking feminists around the world who had rallied in solidarity against his campaign. Throughout his 27 years in political life, the man known informally as Brazil’s own Donald Trump cultivated a following and carved out a sort of infamy for his habit of unapologetically saying whatever he wanted—often even though it was offensive, and even at grave costs. Bolsonaro is also a former Army Captain who frequently praises the nation’s former violent dictatorship, and he took initiative to honor Colonel Brilhante Ustra, known as one of the most truculent torturers of that period, during the impeachment process of former president Dilma Rousseff.

In the wake of his victory, LGBTQ activists fear that a war against their rights—and lives—has just begun.

Brazilian women took to the streets before Brazil’s elections with a simple message for their communities: #EleNao, or #NotHim. (Revista Equinas / Creative Commons)

When he served in Brazil’s Congress, Bolsonaro was prosecuted four times by other politicians at The Council for Parliamentary Ethics and Decorum from the Chamber of Deputies; today, the newly elected president faces charges at Brazil’s Supreme Court for inciting hate and rapeHis career is marked less by success—only two of his 170 proposed projects have ever been approved—but rather by controversial statements against marginalized communities. 

In 2003 and in 2004, Bolsonaro told his female colleague in Congress, Maria do Rosário, “I don’t rape you because you don’t deserve it.” In 2014, he declared that “having a gay son means he hasn’t got punched enough”, and more recently he asserted that he wouldn’t be capable of loving a gay son. Bolsonaro is also one of the major supporters of the School Without Parties law project, “Escola Sem Partido,” aimed at criminalizing practices of “politico-ideological indoctrination” in schools—and has alleged that left-wing parties would want to implement the so-called “Gay Kit,” a disparaging term for a fictional set of learning materials that he says would encourage homosexuality in schools. The project has, of course, never existed the way he described it.

Jaqueline de Jesus protesting for trans rights in Brazil.

Jaqueline de Jesus, a psychologist, Ph.D. professor and black trans woman who ran this year to be Rio’s state legislator, Bolsonaro’s concerning affection for Brazil’s former dictatorship is less terrifying than “the explicit discrimination against sexual and gender diversity” that became such a key part of his campaign and pose a threat to the hard-won LGBTQI victories of the last years. “Depending on Bolsonaro’s decisions,” she explained, “our last resort will be to appeal to the Supreme Court.”

de Jesus knows intimately the ways in which respect and rights can unravel simultaneously: She received a Medal of Honor from Rio’s former council member, Marielle Franco, before Franco was brutally murdered in March this year. With 179 trans people having been killed in Brazil in 2017 alone, and 86 in just the first months 2018, Brazil is the world’s absolute leader in LGBTQI homicide (and, not-so-coincidentally, in firearm homicide).

Bolsonaro, however, said in 2014 that “homophobia does not exist,” and that “homosexuals want privileges.” In 2013, he proudly declared himself homophobic. The openly Catholic president’s radical stances led to severe violations against the rights of LGBTQI people in Brazil during his tenure in Congress, and his over 80-page Government Plan for his presidency doesn’t mention “LGBT” or “gender” a single time. (It does, however, open with a famous bible verse: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”)

In the first ten days of October, at least 50 people got attacked by Bolsonaro’s supporters, including Angela Lopes, the first transgender person in Brazil to have ever legally changed her name. So far, at least four people have been murdered in Bolsonaro’s name: one of them was Moa do Katendê, a renowned master of Capoeira, from Bahia; all of the others were transgender women.

Laura Mendes, a trans activist, worries not only about Bolsonaro’s policies, but the increasingly violent actions of his supporters.

“His supporters also have a mindset of prejudice and intolerance,” trans activist Laura Mendes observed. “We frequently see these people threatening not only LGBTQIs, but also black and Indigenous and people from Northeastern Brazil.”  She fears that Bolsonaro’s government will represent a serious step backwards, and that the violent rhetoric he espouses will continue to come to life on Brazil’s streets.

“I don’t hear the cops saying ‘now, with Bolsonaro, I’ll finally catch this drug dealer,'” police officer Alexandre Felix Campos told Brazilian media outlet Carta Capital. “What I often hear is that they can’t wait to beat the faggots.” Campos is part of a group of police officers against fascism.

At the beginning of October, Bolsonaro signed a commitment term with catholic organization Voto Católico Brasil—Catholic Vote Brazil—to promote the “real meaning of matrimony, the union between man and woman” and “to fight gender ideology.” In the same month, the Order of Attorneys of Brazil advised LGBTQI couples who want to enter into a civil union to do so before he assumes office, since he will have the power to revoke the Court ruling establishing the right to do so at any time. Brazil’s National Network of Workers for Public Security for LGBTQ also recently released a booklet with security recommendations for LGBTQ people, advising them to sit close to drivers on public buses and avoid going out alone.

Igor Veloso is a gay, black actor who hails from São João de Meriti, a city where Bolsonaro won 71 percent of the vote. The Worker’s Party member expressed his disappointment to Ms. in the election results, and in what they revealed about his fellow Brazilians. 

“Bolsonaro’s wife said no one respects who they don’t fear,” he told Ms., “but I don’t need to fear in order to respect. If we are capable of thinking, of questioning, of debating—we learn how to respect, rather than obey.”


Beatriz Miranda is a Brazilian freelance journalist based in São Paulo.