In 2004 the federal government in Brazil embarked on an ambitious programme designed to combat homophobia (Brasil Sem Homofobia or Brazil without homophobia), in a clear signal that the recently elected Workers Party government intended to embrace the diversity agenda and in particular the promotion of rights of erstwhile marginalised individuals and groups, with a range of planned initiatives from education, civil marriage, to targeted support for members of the trans community. In this, the Workers Party was building on very cautious moves by previous governments post-dictatorship and a number of key institutional shifts, such as the Federal Medical Council’s ceasing to interpret homosexuality as a deviance or disease in 1985, nine years before a similar declaration was made by the World Health Organization. But above all the 2004 programme was a reaction to a series of terrifying statistics regarding gay, lesbian and trans experiences, whereby Brazil had clocked up one of the worst records for homophobic hate crimes and murders of members of the LGBTQ community anywhere on earth. Such statistics were and have continued to reveal the deeply negative flipside to the picture-postcard image of Brazil as a tolerant and sexually liberal nation. Such images of Brazil as seen from abroad (see Chapter Eight), and of the mega-cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo as seen from more provincial places within the nation itself, stem in part from a superficial awareness of cultural celebrations such as Carnival, understood by many to be exemplars of a kind of free-flowing, experimental approach to love and sexuality: admired by many as a sign of social progress and liberal sexual politics, and condemned in equal measure by more conservative groups as symbolic of permissiveness and perversion. More recently initiatives such as São Paulo’s internationally renowned annual Pride, one of the world’s largest; federal civil partnership legislation dating from 2013; 1 the recognition of “social names” for trans people, and national health service (SUS) support for gender reassignment, have given the distinct impression of progress, but despite the increased visibility 78of Brazil’s LGBTQ communities, and despite the good intentions of the Workers Party government (2003–2016) and a number of high-profile attempts at educating the wider public, the terrifying statistics of violence against the LGBTQ community have in fact worsened. And with the ousting of Dilma Rousseff from the presidency in 2016, and the resounding defeat of São Paulo’s LGBTQ-friendly mayor Fernando Haddad in elections in the same year, progress in legalising gay and trans rights has come to a standstill. Brazil’s LGBTQ movement celebrated 40 years of existence in 2018 while not one single proposal promoting gay and trans rights was made into law (Fernandes 2018), and with the victory of an openly homophobic candidate in the presidential elections of November 2018, Brazil’s sizeable LGBTQ community fears it has little to celebrate. The current climate is ably summed up by Linn da Quebrada (Caparica 2016), trans artivist and the subject of a documentary discussed later in this chapter:
I’m a constant target of aggression and violence. From all sides. And not just me. Many people like me are the target of this kind of violence. A violence that comes from inside the home, from TV, from the church, the street, schools, and even from among our own friends. Sometimes it’s camuflaged and sometimes it has no shame in revealing itself. It’s even allowed by law to an extent and encouraged by those in power. And hate disguised as opinion is as much to blame as those who kill.