As Brazil’s Presidential Race Intensifies, Violence Against LGBTQ People Soars

With the imminent runoff vote between far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro and leftist Fernando Haddad polarizing Brazil, there has been a remarkable increase in politically motivated attacks and hate crimes targeting women, black people, and LGBTQ people — bringing even more controversy to the political dispute.

One day after the first round, in the women’s bathroom of one of Rio de Janeiro’s most traditional schools, a sentence written on the wall was found: “Dykes will die lol”

“We will not accept any manifestations of prejudice, which will be fought with firmness,” read the note from the institution. The offender hasn’t been identified.

In Nova Iguaçu, trans woman Jullyana Barbosa was beaten up with an iron bar, as the aggressors started shouting homophobic insults. “I hope Bolsonaro wins to kill this garbage,” Barbosa claims to have heard from them.

“They are using Bolsonaro to attack us,” she told UOL. She got 10 stitches to the head at the medical station.

Last Tuesday, a transgender woman was stabbed to death in the downtown area of São Paulo. A witness said the aggressors were also shouting “Bolsonaro” during the attack on the streets.

And the list of recent hate crimes goes on.

Despite defending radical public security measures, Bolsonaro’s negative statements on the LGBTQ community throughout his political career can be read as an incentive to violence, say his critics and opponents.

“My adversary foments violence, including a culture of rape,” his leftist rival Fernando Haddad said in an interview with AFP, recalling an episode when Bolsonaro told a congresswoman she didn’t “deserve” to be raped by him.

The Not Him Movement

Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the attacks as isolated. “If a guy wearing one of my T-shirts goes too far, what do I have to do with it?” he argued. “I ask people not to practice this, but I have no control over millions and millions of people who support me.”

The candidate himself suffered an act of violence during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais. While being carried on the shoulders by supporters in July, a man stabbed him in the abdomen. Bolsonaro was taken to the hospital, and had to undergo an intestinal surgery. He’s been recovering since then, and claims that he won’t take part in any televised debates with his opponent because of his condition. The suspect was arrested.

Radical manifestations of voters on the internet are also helping set the tone of the election. The hashtag #EleNão [#NotHim] became a popular catchphrase to express opposition to Bolsonaro’s candidacy.

By the end of September, demonstrators in every state and in the Federal District participated in anti-Bolsonaro protests, with a total of 114 cities. In response to the movement, Bolsonaro supporters marched in favor of the candidate in 40 cities in 16 states, according to G1.

During the electoral race period in Brazil, more than 70 violent attacks and threats of this nature have occurred since September 30, according to a survey conducted by organizations Open Knowledge Brasil, Pública, and Brasil.io.

Speaking to INTO, Open Knowledge Brasil’s executive director Natália Mazotte explains that these numbers were based on cases reported by trustworthy sources and local news outlets. Even though they can’t be considered precise, nationwide data, it’s an alarming indication of all the violence faced by minorities in the countryone of the deadliest for LGBTQ people.

Last week, a Grindr security warning started being displayed to Brazilian users of the app, a mechanism primarily deployed in countries where homosexuality is still illegal. “Following the recent election, members of the Grindr community raised concerns about this escalating violence. Take steps to keep yourself safe this week,” the notification advised.

“Reports of violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community have been brought to our attention by several local organizations,” executive director of the Grindr for Equality program Jack Harrison-Quintana stated. “This has prompted our team to issue a safety reminder to our Brazilian users with a link to our online safety guide if they need additional resources or information.”

Other platforms, such as Vítimas da Intolerância [Victims of Intolerance, in free translation], launched in October, and Mapa da Violência [Violence Map, in free translation], are gathering dozens of reports of physical and verbal aggression as well. The NGO Aliança Nacional LGBTI has been compiling reports, which can be sent by the victims or witnesses via email.

However, while mobilization to protect LGBTQ folks continues, it’s being met with resistance at every step.

A startup recently launched a game named “Bolsomito 2k18”, marketed by the Steam digital platform, and created with the premise of confronting feminists, gays, and social movements. Users control an avatar of the candidate Bolsonaro, a character who beats women, black people, and gay people to gain points and “defeat the evils of communism,” as described by the game developer, BS Studios, on the platform.

A recent Datafolha election poll of voter intentions for the Oct. 28 runoff vote shows that Bolsonaro had 59% of voter support compared to Haddad’s 41%. As his chances continue to look more and more promising —  many are left considering the future of LGBTQ violence in a nation facing one of its deadliest moments in recorded history.


Humberto Abdo

Humberto Abdo is a culture reporter based in São Paulo city, Brazil, where he writes about film, nightlife, and gender issues for print and digital media.

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