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