Brazil has long viewed and sold itself as a playground for sultry, steamy sexy-time, as well a haven of tolerance. And it may well be — for straight people. For LGBT Brazilians, the truth is a helluva lot darker and scarier.
While Americans have fiercely debated how to respond to the massacre last month at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Brazilians have been confronting their own epidemic of anti-gay violence — one that, by some counts, has earned Brazil the ignominious ranking of the world’s deadliest place for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
Nearly 1,600 people have died in hate-motivated attacks in the past four and half years, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia, which tracks the deaths through news articles. By its tally, a gay or transgender person is killed almost every day in this nation of 200 million. …
Brazil’s near-mythic reputation for tolerance is not without justification. In the nearly three decades since democracy replaced military dictatorship, the Brazilian government has introduced numerous laws and policies aimed at improving the lives of sexual minorities. In 1996, it was among the first to offer free antiretroviral drugs to people with H.I.V. In 2003, Brazil became the first country in Latin America to recognize same-sex unions for immigration purposes, and it was among the earliest to allow gay couples to adopt children. In 2013, the Brazilian judiciary effectively legalized same-sex marriage.
Some experts suggest that liberal government policies may have gotten too far ahead of traditional social mores. The anti-gay violence, they contend, can be traced to Brazil’s culture of machismo and a brand of evangelical Christianity, exported from the United States, that is outspoken in its opposition to homosexuality.
The contingent of neo-Puritans in the country has swelled over the last four decades.
Evangelicals make up nearly a quarter of Brazil’s population, up from 5 percent in 1970, and religious leaders reach millions of people through the hundreds of television and radio stations they have purchased in recent years. …
Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College who studies gay rights movements in Latin America, said much of the homophobia was a reaction to achievements like same-sex marriage. “Brazilians are becoming more tolerant,” he said, “but the countertrend is that those who remain intolerant and opposed to L.G.B.T. rights are developing new strategies and a more virulent discourse to block progress on those issues.”
Activists say transgender Brazilians face the greatest brutality, with many murder victims badly mutilated. Last year, a group of men videotaped their assault on Piu da Silva, 25, an ebullient samba dancer in Rio, who was tortured and forced to beg for her life before being stabbed and shot six times. The assailants, who posted the attack on Facebook, were not found.
(Image via Shutterstock)