The paradox of sexual acceptance in brazil 

An essay

Gabriela Dickson La Rotta
Boston University '20

In the realm of Latin America, Brazil defies easy categorization. Every region, every state, every town has its own story. Life in Rio does not mirror life in Manaus, and no city resident can understand what it is to live on the banks of the Amazon. And yet there are threads that run through the lives of every Brazilian. As a nation, Brazil represents 11.7 percent of the world’s Catholic population, a fact that becomes evident the more time one spends among the people [1].

Every year, Carnival draws together citizens from all walks of life in a vibrant celebration of music, dance, and love. During Carnival, there is no need for identity, no lines that separate one human from another. A short walk through the streets of Rio de Janeiro during Carnival can make visible the fluidity of sexuality and genders that runs through Brazil’s culture. The country’s cities are famous for their travestis, effeminized male prostitutes, that proudly strut wherever they wish [4]. Every year during Carnival they dance among the populace, in the streets and on the floats, like an inside joke Brazil shares with itself. Telenovelas regularly featured famous travestis as guest stars throughout the 1990s, and there was a time when transgender model Roberta Close was regarded as Brazil’s most beloved star. To this day she is idolized for her beauty and grace, appearing in numerous editorials for Vogue and named “The Most Beautiful Woman in Brazil” in 1989 [4]. Among the LGTBQ community, São Paulo holds the world’s largest pride parade, with over 3 million participants. On a legislative level, Brazil’s National Justice Council, one of the country’s highest courts, effectively legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 when it ruled that same-sex couples should not be denied marriage licenses [5].

Although Brazil’s culture promotes freedom of expression, it is a stark contrast to conservative public opinions of the LGTBQ movement. In October 2016 Rio de Janeiro elected a mayor who repeatedly stated that homosexuality is “not natural” or a “terrible evil” [6]. Mayor-elect Marcello Crivella, who is also an Evangelical bishop, won with 59 percent of the vote, a strong show of support from Rio. Across the country the ruling leftist Worker’s Party was swept aside following the impeachment of president Dilma Rouseff, and in its place is a collective of right-wing officials. As Brazil gears up for the 2018 presidential election, polls show that pre-candidate Jair Bolsonaro is in fourth place. Bolsonaro, a federal Congressman for the state of Rio de Janeiro, has been in politics since 1988. Throughout his career Bolsonaro has made a number of controversial comments about the LGTBQ community. In the past, he said he “would prefer his son die than come out as gay, compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia, attributed homosexuality to drug use, and encouraged the physical abuse of children thought to be gay” [7]. Although many politicians and citizens are opposed to such statements, Bolsonaro continues to draw massive crowds and adulation from Brazilians. He commands respect among a significant percentage of the population, and many would seek to make his ideology the national standard [7].

Outside of Brazil’s political sphere, violence targeting the LGTBQ community has the nation’s minorities living in fear [2]. In June of this year, two beloved teachers, Edivaldo Silva de Oliveira and Jeovan Bandeira, were killed for being openly homosexual, their charred remains found in the trunk of a burning car [3]. Their murder, however, was just one in a series of attacks on LGTBQ people in recent months . A Brazilian advocacy group analyzed the data on reported attacks from the past few years and concluded that 44 percent of the world’s anti-LGTBQ violence occurs in Brazil [8]. For reference, the population of Brazil accounts for just under three percent of the world’s population. The same advocacy group, Grupo Gay de Bahia, has concluded that nearly 1600 people have died in hate-motivated attacks against LGTBQ citizens in the past four and half years [3]. When discussing their experiences, many LGTBQ individuals have reported encountering resistance from law enforcement.

Brazil exists in a sort of paradoxical universe. On the one hand, its culture of sexuality has led to widespread acceptance of transgender and transvestite individuals. On the international stage Brazil is seen as a consistent supporter of LGTBQ rights. But alongside the accomplishments of the past few years exists vocal opposition. Many attribute the epidemic of violence to the culture of machismo and popularity of Evangelic Christianity that was exported to Brazil from the West. More than 60 of Brazil’s 513-member Congress are Evangelical Christians, and at present Brazil’s trade minister and labor minister are both Evangelical pastors [9]. The Evangelical bloc characterizes their movement as a response to secularism, homosexuality, and changes implemented by the Worker’s Party.

Brazil teaches us the importance of history. Every country, no matter how old or powerful, is a work in progress, marked by success and tragedy in equal measure. The trajectory of a nation is not a straight line, and as such conflict is inevitable. However, conflict will be productive only if it leads to discussion, if Evangelicals and conservatives connect with members of the LGTBQ community and seek out common ground. Brazil can be a country for everyone. It can foster a religious community while condemning homophobia and transphobia. Now it falls to the leaders to take up the mantle of equity, to make their predecessors proud, and make Brazil the country it can be.



[1] "The Global Catholic Population." Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. Pew Research Center, 13 Feb. 2013. Web.

[2] Michaelson, Jay. "This Is Where Life Is Getting Worse for LGBT People." The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 15 Nov. 2016. Web.

[3] Jacobs, Andrew. "Brazil Is Confronting an Epidemic of Anti-Gay Violence." The New York Times.       The New York Times, 05 July 2016. Web.

[4] Kulick, Don. “The Gender of Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes.” American Anthropologist, vol. 99, no. 3, 1997, pp. 574–585. New Series.

[5] "Gay Marriage Around the World." Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. Pew Research Center. 26 June 2015. Web.

[6] Sims, Shannon. "Rio De Janeiro Elects Conservative, Sometimes Homophobic, Bishop To Mayor As Brazil Swings Right." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 30 Oct. 2016. Web.

[7] O’Boyle, Brendan. "Jair Bolsonaro: Pro-Torture, Anti-Gay and Brazil's Future President?" Americas Quarterly. AS/COA, 19 Apr. 2016. Web.

[8] Littaeur, Dan. "Brazil, Where 44% of World's Anti-LGBT Violence Occurs, Kills Discrimination Bill." LGBTQ Nation. 18 Dec. 2013. Web.

[9] Phillips, Dom, and Nick Miroff. "In Brazil's Political Crisis, a Powerful New Force: Evangelical Christians." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 May 2016. Web.


Any opinions expressed here are the author's own.