What About Brazil?

On Dec. 16, 2003 Brazil announced that it will recognize legal same-sex unions performed abroad for immigration purposes. Couples who are married (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada), in a civil union or domestic partnership (Vermont and California in the U.S., France, etc.), or even in a city registry (San Francisco, Buenos Aires) can use their union certificate to apply for immigration benefits to Brazil. To read the Mix Brasil article in Portuguese on this, please click here.

We are thrilled at this news, because it opens a new door to remain together that we didn't have before. Yet we are also cognizant that Brazil is a country of opposites when it comes to LGBT people. Its legislative and legal branches are incredibly gay-friendly. As a matter of fact, same-sex unions are treated as common-law marriages and in some cases surviving spouses are able to claim the pension money of the deceased. Unfortunately, by-and-large society has been unable to catch up to this reality. Below are some examples of what LGBT people may face in Brazil.

What we really would like to see is that both countries accept LGBT people fully. The U.S. and Brazil both still have a lot of room to grow in the area of equality for LGBT people. The U.S. leads Brazil in social acceptance, yet SORELY lags behind in legal recognition of couples. Conversely, Brazil provides most benefits of marriage to same-sex couples through common-law, yet its people are still considered the ones that brutally murder the most LGBT people per year.

We are asked many times why we don't just settle in Brazil. After all Brazil is a fun and warm country where we could probably have a good life. Well, that is not the case if you are gay. As a matter of fact, Brazil has been rated as one of the countries where the most gay people are killed. According to the report Epidemic of Hate, published in 1996 by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, at least 1200 gays, lesbians and transsexuals were killed in Brazil alone in a decade. According to the Grupo Gay da Bahia, Brazil's largest and most active gay organization, a gay, lesbian or transvestite is brutally murdered every two days due to homophobia, with a total of 130 last year alone.

According to GGB's statistics, only 2% of these attacks are on lesbians, but Love Sees No Borders believes this number is grossly underestimated for two main reasons. First, a vast percentage of homophobia-related crimes go unreported. Even in the United States, most hate crimes are not reported. The city of San Francisco, considered by many as a gay Mecca, has one of the highest percentages of hate crimes in the U.S. Very likely this is because people feel comfortable enough to come forward with their complaints knowing they will not be discriminated against by institutions and law enforcement officials--after all, a large majority of hate crimes in Brazil are commited by police officers--therefore, elevating the number of people unwilling to denounce a crime. Second, in women's cases brutality against lesbians very likely takes the form of violent rape. If a victim is brave enough to come forward, the complaint will be rape, not a hate crime against a lesbian. In addition to this, Brazilian police are notorious for underestimating women's complaints. The city of Sao Paulo had to create a separate police entity known as the Delegacia da Mulher, or Women's Police Department, to deal with crimes against women because it is a well known fact in Brazil that police officers are unable to deal with crimes against women. In many cases, these same police officers who are taking complaints from women commit the same attrocities on their wives and daughters at home. As a matter of fact, until 1991 husbands could kill wives in Brasil in what are so-called "honor killings." Famous politician Paulo Maluf was quoted as telling men that if they had sexual urges to go ahead and "rape, but don't kill." Recently, law "enforcers" are prosecuting kidnappers with more tenacity than rapists, even though, unlike rapes, most of the kidnapping cases in Brazil are not violent. Women as a whole are not respected in Brazil and are constant victims of despicable crimes. These two factors have to be taken into account when estimating hate crimes against lesbians in Brazil, since when it comes to lesbians we experience under-reporting and an overlap between hate crimes and crimes against women.

Brazil is a country of opposites when it comes to gay issues. Several courts have granted gay and lesbians partners benefits such as inheritance and pension rights. This kind of recognition is unheard of in the U.S. Yet gays and lesbians, as well as transsexuals, do not live inside courtrooms. We are people, and as such we live in the towns, cities and villages of a country. In this world outside of courtrooms, life is very different, and Brazilian society is not welcoming to gay people. Gay, lesbian and transsexual Brazilians cannot even count on fair treatment by Brazilian police. For instance, in 1998, Brazilian policemen were suspected of killing a transvestite, and another transvestite was murdered in 1995. (In the Brazilian media, the terms "transsexual" and "transvestite" are interchangeable, with "transvestite" used more commonly.) The perception that effeminate men suffer the brunt of persecution, while lesbians escape the radar of hate is a misconception. A couple of out lesbians were tortured and humiliated by police officers based on no other evidence than a false accusation. None of the officers involved were ever charged or prosecuted in any way.

Besides the police, society is not at all welcoming of gays, lesbians and transgendered people. In Sao Paulo, considered the most cosmopolitan city in Brazil along with Rio de Janeiro, citizens tried to stop the Gay Pride Parade. Brazil has one of the most active and growing movements of skinheads, a white supremacist and homophobic group. They were responsible for the most brutal and public death of a gay man in downtown Sao Paulo where at least 30 skinheads were involved. Only two have been indicted.

Adding insult to injury, in 1999 mail bombs were sent to a Sao Paulo gay organization. After investigating the events, it was found that an employee of Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog, was responsible for the mail bombings. To read about the story published in Portuguese in a major Brazilian newspaper, click here.

As you can see, Brazil is not a safe country for gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transsexuals. These are just a few cases that mirror the hundreds of thousands of unreported cases. The land of soccer, carnaval and caipirinha can also be a land of bloody hatred and murder if you happen to be a member of the LGBT community.

Most of the information used to generate this page came from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Campaign (www.iglrhc.org), and the Grupo Gay da Bahia (www.ggb.org.br).

Copyright ©2001 Love Sees No Borders