LGBTQI Rights and Brazil’s Presidential Election
Controversy and the necessity to go beyond elections
For the first time in Brazil’s recent democratic history, which began in 1984 after the country’s twenty-one-year long dictatorship ended, the LGBTQI rights have appeared as the main controversial topic in this year’s presidential election. In the space of two weeks during the election first round, the topic got more attention and at a broader length than perhaps it has had previously in any of the eight democratically elected governments of the past.
It all began with the rise in the polls of the presidential candidate Marina Silva, Brazil’s former environmental minister during ex-president Lula’s first government. Silva, despite her own religious beliefs against abortion and plain LGBTQI rights, presented in her political platform a commitment to guarantee the establishment of civil rights and to fight discrimination against the LGBTQI population. As unbelievable as it may sound, the commitment, though, would not last 48 hours. Due to the political pressure of some of the religious fundamentalist politicians that supported her, Silva and her team changed their platform completely after only one day it had been published. The changes consisted mainly in giving a step back in the defense of the LGBTQI marriage and in supporting the approval of the project of law 122, which prescribes as crime any form of discrimination against the LGBTQI population in the same terms as the Brazilian anti-racist law. Here it is essential to address a determining factor that makes the situation no less than dramatic: Brazil shamefully owns the catastrophic rate of one death of a LGBTQI person every 28 hours, according to the traditional annual research of the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB).
Most probably as a response to Silva’s attitude, a few days later the president and reelection candidate Dilma Rousseff affirmed after a TV debate that she thought “homophobia should be penalized”. Not surprisingly, though, her own platform did not mention the criminalization of homophobia or any other of the LGBTQI rights movement main demands at that time. On the contrary, as a result of the coalition Rousseff and her party, The Workers Party (PT), made with evangelical and religious fundamentalist politicians, it was during her government that the first anti-homophobia school program was cancelled and no effort was made to pass in the Congress the project of law 122, among other controversial episodes. These include the arrival last year of an openly homophobic and racist deputy, Marco Feliciano, to the head of the Human Rights commission in the Congress; Feliciano is a member of the Social Christian Party (PSC), which used to be part of Rousseff’s coalition. The three most voted candidates at the 2014 first round, Dilma Rousseff, Aécio Neves — who eventually went to the second round with Rousseff — and Marina Silva all have their share of religious fundamentalist support and alliances.
It all made some headlines, but no one could imagine what was still to come. During a TV debate broadcasted to the entire nation, the former journalist and far-right candidate Levy Fidelix was responsible for the most outrageous scene of explicit homophobia ever experienced in Brazilian political history. After being asked about his position towards LGBTQI rights by the extreme-left candidate Luciana Genro, Fidelix linked homosexuality with pedophilia, encouraging the “majority” of the country to face “this minority” and stating that “the excretory system” does not function as a means of reproduction. At the end of his speech, the presidential also said that the LGBTQI population should “have psychological care well away” from the rest of the population. Immediately, Fidelix’s speech went viral on the internet and gave space to an intense public debate.
It is important to note that in Brazil every presidential candidate whose party owns a member in the Congress participates on TV debates, making these occasions the greatest opportunity to have almost the same visibility as the most voted candidates. According to the polls both Genro and Fidelix would not overcome the 1% of voting intentions, but it turned out that Genro had an expressive voting in some capitals, such as Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro.
Genro, whose first reaction was not firm as expected in terms of strongly condemning Fidelix’s shocking statements, came back to the topic during the next TV debate. She remarked that the presidential had not only objectively encouraged homophobia and transphobia, but also had put into practice the same type of discourse already seen in history during Nazism or against black people to justify slavery or racism. “You should have been arrested and you should apologize to all the people whose dignity you have put at risk”, she affirmed. Eduardo Jorge, the candidate of the Green Party (PV), was the only other presidential to condemn Fidelix’s hate speech and to ask for apologies. However, the only presidential to stand for all the LGBTQI movement demands and to openly legitimate and affirm diverse types of families during the televised debates was Genro, whose fellow party member at the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), the deputy Jean Wyllys, is maybe Brazil’s greatest public reference on the fight against homophobia and transphobia. Wyllys and his party registered a complaint at the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) against Fidelix for his hate speech, asking the Court to punish the presidential; the Brazilian Order of Attorneys also registered a complaint against the candidate. Even though, the first round ended and the candidate’s speech had no further implications.
The growing political power of evangelical churches and religious fundamentalist politicians is a concrete obstacle to the advance of democratic rights to all in Brazil and to a qualitative debate on society. This growth is in part certainly linked to the domestification process that the former traditional left parties, notably Rousseff’s Workers Party (PT), have gone through. Choosing to focus primarily on the institutional arena and on governability and, for this purpose, making alliances with organic right-wing sectors of the Brazilian society, these parties have fragmented their traditional social bases and kept a distance from the streets and the protests. In June 2013, twenty years after the last massive street demonstrations in Brazil took place, the protests exploded aside of the government and its traditional social movement support bases, such as the United Workers League (CUT), the movement for land reform (MST) or the traditional National Students League (UNE). As a starting point to describe what the protests were about, it should be indicated the existence of a deep feeling of misrepresentation by the political class and by the political institutions.
This domestification process and the current weakness of the traditional social movements in Brazil can be listed as two of the main reasons to the growth of the religious fundamentalist power. It is no surprise, then, that the more hegemonic parties and their presidential candidates have their hands tied with this sector of society, being unable to openly stand for the LGBTQI demands. Rousseff and Neves did not bring the topic to discussion during the second round debate. Although without mentioning the project of law 122, surprisingly, in the last week of the election Rousseff launched a platform addressing the LGBTQI rights, making a commitment to criminalize homophobia and to make an effort to grant a secular state. Neves, the organic representative of the right in Brazil, did not present a political platform concerning specifically the LGBTQI rights. After the results of the election were announced, the reelected president Dilma Rousseff made a speech to the nation and, as critics have observed, she did not mention the LGBTQI population and its demands. A few days later though she wrote on her Facebook account that she would face intolerance and support the criminalization of homophobia.
To the Brazilian diminute radical left, whose main representative in this year’s election was Genro, despite of other presidential candidates such as Zé Maria (PSTU) or Mauro Iasi (PCB), the challenge is no other than building a common LGBTQI political platform, based on a systematic interaction with the social movements and able to complexify the articulation between gender, sexuality, race and class, among other categories. It is urgent to advance in the strategic debate and political formulation beyond elections and unavoidable reforms. There is no other way to do this than constantly improving and reinforcing the militant work and the synthesis between parties, political groups and social movements.