Brazil Is A Gay Traveler’s Paradise, But Violence Against LGBTs Is On The Rise

Right now, travel agents, journalists, hoteliers and others in the hospitality industry are packing their bags and heading to Brazil for The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s  annual global convention, held this year in the southern city of Florianopolis from April 12-14. They’ll check out hotels, network with contacts, discuss best practices and discover all that Brazil has to offer queer travelers (and there’s a lot).

And the country is one of the most gay-friendly on the planet, with gays and lesbians allowed to marry, adopt and serve in the military. Gender-reassignment surgery is offered for free as part of the country’s national health service.

But as The Daily Beast’s Kristian Jepsen reports, all is not well for LGBTs who call the South American country home: Murders of gays and lesbians in the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais—and more notably in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo—are on the rise.

Attacks against gays have climbed steadily for most of the last decade, with 272 murdered in 2011—one every 36 hours, according to Grupo Gay da Bahía, a leading gay-rights group that tracks antigay violence. This year, GGB reports, it’s even worse, with 75 murders in just the first 10 weeks. That’s one every 24 hours.

São Paulo is home to the world’s largest Pride celebration, but the stories of anti-gay violence are chilling: Between 2007 and 2008, 13 gay men were killed in the city, possibly the work of a serial killer or hate group. In 2009, 21 people were injured at São Paulo Pride when an explosive was thrown into a crowd of revelers. (In a separate incident, a 17-year-old was beaten so badly by a group of assailants that he fell into a coma.) And just last year, a young man walking with two gay friends down the popular and cosmopolitan Avenida Paulista was attacked by a group of teenagers, who smashed a fluorescent bulb over his head.

To address São Paulo’s anti-gay crime wave, Telma de Souza, a Worker’s Party representative, has proposed a special unit in the city’s police force that would specifically address attacks on the gay community with officers receiving special training in counseling and human rights.

But solutions on the national level are being met with resistance, reports Jepsen. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff recently vetoed a popular  program that would have taught schoolkids about respecting sexual diversity. And a proposed “anti-homophobia law”—which would make it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to discriminate or incite violence against LGBTs—was attacked by evangelicals, who complained it would outlaw sermons and religious instruction against homosexuality.

It was reworded, but fundamentalists still rejected it and now the measure languishes in legislative limbo.

“The evangelical bloc will never pass one law which would be to our benefit,” says Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transexuals (ABGLT), who recently criticized the redrafted law for creating a human-rights hierarchy.

Fundamentalist bigots disguising hate as religious freedom? Maybe things aren’t so different down in Brazil as they are in the good old US of A.

Photos: Sweet Pearl, Charlie Phillips

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  • Malky

    a young man walking with two gay friends down the popular and cosmopolitan Avenida Paulista was attacked by a group of teenagers

    No wonder Anderson Cooper was seen walking alone on the Avenida Paulista a couple of days ago, even though he was vacationing in Sao Paulo with his boyfriend Benjamin Maisani.

  • Mark

    You state gays and lesbians are allowed to marry and adopt, serve openly in the military, and they have the largest gay pride event in the world and then come to this conclusion? I’ve been to Brazil at least 15 times – it is vastly more gay friendly despite episodes of violence cited. Anybody knows wherever you are there in any city – you’re more likely to be attacked in a robbery than on a biased basis. You just need to not be foolish. Funny, I’ve stayed at a nice Rio hotel like Copacabana Palace leaving at 11 at night to be stopped by the doorman with a worried look: “Where are you going? Let us drive you there. We’ll wait for you.” Sao Paulo is safer than San Francisco.

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  • Kev C

    @Malky: I doubt Anderson Cooper would report this story as news. Killing gays in Iraq or Brasil or anywhere is not mainstream enough for the major networks to cover. Gay = internet news only.

  • Kayak

    I need to break this down, since I grew up there.

    “And the country is one of the most gay-friendly on the planet” = I don’t know what you mean by most gay friendly on the planet. Yes, the gay scene is large in big cities, but the macho culture is very dominant and you can only be gay in certain places. You are very likely to be taunted on the streets, bullied in school, and etc, if you present a different behaviour other than the mainstream macho club going beer drinking girl seeking guy. Please don’t put Brazil is the same category as Canada and north European countries by saying its one of the most gay friendly on the planet.

    “With gays and lesbians allowed to marry, adopt and serve in the military” I supposed they are allowed all those things, but the social barriers after these acts are performed are still in place. I hardly believe many people in the Brazilian army are open about their sexuality. The general society is already very macho, and traditional-family oriented, the army – where the lower and lower-middle class serves, there’s not much room for acceptance.

    “Gender-reassignment surgery is offered for free as part of the country’s national health service.” From what I have heard from people who sought this service, the procedure is way behind other places like Thailand. But the main issue here is that this statements glorifies the health care system, which is almost not good unless you have private insurance which all middle-class and up have.

  • Luca

    @Kayak: The society prejudice is the same present in the USA and in the majority of Developed/developing countries, you say it like it is way worse than in the Us, but it is the same. You goin to be bullied/taunted here and there, thats not something exclusive. And the Government Health Care is far from bad, its just crowded, and thats why people have insurance, so they dont have to wait ages for an appointment. When its an emergency, like a car accident the ambulance will send you to a public hospital even if you have insurance, and you will be treated right away.

  • Brazil - No Thanks

    What difference does it make if Brazil is “gay friendly”, when that country has one of the planet’s highest murder rates? Are you seriously willing to risk your life for a beach full of hot guys? Get a life. The risks gay men take is appalling. Whether you are killed for your wallet or for being gay, you a still DEAD.

  • Douwata

    I. Gays can marry in Brazil.

    This is false. While civil unions between same-sex couples are legal in Brazil, marriage is not. Some civil unions were converted into marriages by judges, but these are isolated cases. As of today, marriage in Brazil is segregated to heterosexual couples only.

    II. Gays can serve openly in the Military.

    I know of a case in which a couple of gay men serving in the military were punished. They presented themselves as openly gay in a popular Brazilian television show, and by the end of show one of them got arrested. You might find information about this case on Google.

    III. Know your gay brothers and sisters.

    Although Brazil is famous for its depictions of gays playing volleyball in its beaches, do not assume that all gays spend their days in beaches. Many GLBT individuals in Brazil are hard-working, diligent people, to whom civil rights still are denied. And many GLBT individuals are poor and due to their poverty, they are largely marginalized as a social group.

    IV. The current president

    Luiz Mott, Ph.D., is one of the most prominent gay civil rights activist in Brazil, and the founder of one of the oldest (if not the oldest) GLBT association in Brazil. Dr. Mott shot a video of himself in hopes that the current president of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff, would see. In this video, he claims that several gays were assassinated in Brazil during her government, and he criticizes her, as well as other politicians associated to her, due to the fact that they vetoed an educational program that promoted the end of homophobia in public schools. Dr. Mott pays close attention to the hardships to which GLBT citizens in Brazil are subjected, and he points out that the current president has not helped in mitigating these hardships. Colleagues of mine maintain that the president associated herself with the social conservatives to gain their support and remain in power.

    V. Brazil

    Although Brazil progressed in the matter of GLBT rights, it is far from being the “ideal” country.

  • JJ

    It would be interesting to know exactly who is doing the killing, and who is being killed, where, and why. Brazil is a violent country, so given that there are millions of LGBT people, the statistic of a few hundred murders does not hold stand out. Passing an anti-discrimination law does not help in murders (but may in things like social acceptance), because murders are committed by people who fully know murder is illegal already. There is some indication that some killings happen in “parks”, now being patrolled, where trannies are known to hang out, but also the dark provides a cover for illicit drug trade. LGBT people are also very susceptible to drug abuse, so being connected with drug use and being gay may be a clue. Mainstream LGBT people may not be targets at all, I do not know. The murders may show other patterns, such as targeting lower income groups.

    Note, the link below describes crack as a major driver in murders. This trend may also be present in what is assumed to be LGBT murder, but a good percentage of them may have some drug related motive.

  • sv

    “And the country is one of the most gay-friendly on the planet, with gays and lesbians allowed to marry”

    They are not “allowed to marry” in Brazil. There has been a couple of favourable court decisions last year referring to specific couples that sued. But these are judicial decisions, not legislative ones. In effect the courts said these two couples “should be allowed” to get married, not that they can. Plus the court can rule on a specific case. It can not legislate for all similar cases. Even civil unions are only legal in some parts of Brazil. There’s nothing on the federal level.

    In fact every legislation favourable to LGBTs has been perennially blocked in Brazil due to the massive influence of the U.S-exported evangelical lobby

  • Douwata

    “It would be interesting to know exactly who is doing the killing, and who is being killed, where, and why.”

    Supremacist groups are targeting GLBT individuals in Sao Paulo, and the Avenida Paulista (Paulist Avenue) has been reported as a critical area. Two young men who were mistakenly identified as GLBT were assaulted last year, and a group of six individuals used iron lamps and stones to attack them. GLBT groups in Brazil want to pass legislation that would classify this crime as a “hate crime towards the GLBT community” thereby bringing to light the fact that GLBT individuals are being attacked because of their sexual orientation.

  • J Stratford

    How many gays die is a meaningless statistic if we dont know how many straight people are killed as well. If there is a significant difference percentage wise, then its something to talk about. If not, its not about being gay it just means that Brazil is a dangerous nation for both gays and straights.

    Where are the gays that can do math? Or logic? I suppose they are all on advocate…

  • mirtolalh

    We do not have antigay movement here in Brazil. It’s a lie. Text says we had 272 gays murdered in Brazil in 2011. But the text doesn’t mention that we had 45.000 murders in Brazil in 2011!!!! Compare 272 with 45.000 is not fair. To make things worst, text doesn’t mention that among 272 murders, most of them victms were murdered by their own fellow. I mean, a homosexual murdered his/her lover!!! GGB spreads those kind of lies to keep getting money from goverment. They deceive the presse with this number. But we don’t need to go very far. Just compare 272 gays murderd with 45.000 murders we had in Brazil!!!

  • WilsonCavalcanti

    @Brazil – No Thanks:

    Come on, I am 24, I was born and raised in Brazil, have lived in the UK and traveled pretty much around Europe, USA and South America and I think I know much more about Brazil than you do. Most crimes happen in low class areas. I’m not saying it’s fine when poor people die, but that’s the reality of my country. 80 per cent or more of the murders are in the low class neighborhoods and drug-related. So, if you come here and avoid these kind of places (not even I go to these places) it’s really unlikely that you get killed or something. You may get robbed os pickpocketed, ok. But it’s not like I see people dying each and everyday (I’ve never seen any in my almost 23 years living in Brazil, actually).

  • imsolucky

    Hey guys, you should read this article about a brazilian gay professional and his coming out story in the workplace. He was “forced” to go back to the closet to keep his job. Pretty sad, right? It’s a very interesting article:

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