Tiffany Abreu hopes to serve Brazilian voters something different this election cycle.
The 33-year-old volleyball player is running for a seat in the National Congress of Brazil after becoming the first-ever out transgender person to compete at the nationwide level in December 2017.
After transitioning in 2012, the twice-honored MVP won her right to play in Brazil’s Superliga, its top women’s volleyball league.
Although many opposed allowing Abreu to compete with other female athletes, a set of guidelines implemented by the International Olympic Committee in 2016 paved the way for her to participate. Trans women can play as long as the testosterone in their bloodstreams remains minimal, its current rules state.
Abreu highlighted her long journey toward making history in conversation with reporters during a campaign event.
“For 27 years, I’ve been consumed inside,” Abreu told the Agence France Presse wire service. “I wanted to make my transition when I was 12 or 13 years old because even from childhood, I knew I was a woman. But I lacked information, guidance and above all, hospitals where I could get the operation done.”
“I could not live in that body anymore,” she added. “I could not show that I was a man when I was a woman. I couldn’t stand feeling ashamed of myself.”
The athlete is campaigning against the backdrop of Brazil’s increasingly contentious presidential election, in which the far-right Jair Bolsonaro leads in the polls. After being stabbed at a campaign event in September, he led all challengers by 13 percentage points in subsequent opinion surveys.
Bolsonaro is widely backed by evangelicals, who make up one-quarter of voters in Brazil.
The candidate’s infamously anti-LGBTQ, misogynistic views have led to widespread protests in Brazil. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women marched in demonstrations across the country that recalled the 2017 Women’s Marches following President Donald Trump’s inauguration in the United States.
“Not him,” chanted critics of his candidacy.
The 63-year-old once told Playboy Brazil that he “would rather that my son died” than have a gay child. Bolsonaro dismissed the extremely high rate of hate crimes against LGBTQ people, saying queer and trans people are murdered as a result of “prostitution or even killed by their own partners.”
But as Abreu’s campaign shows, transgender candidates have responded to Brazil’s crises of democracy and violence by working to improve society. At least 50 trans people have announced their intention to run for office in 2018 — a more than tenfold increase from last year’s election cycle. In 2017, just five threw their hat in the ring.
Of these candidates, 33 are running for Congress, while 17 are seeking seats in state legislatures.
While the fact of Abreu’s gender identity has yet to garner much controversy ahead of the October elections, it’s her choice of party that has ruffled the most feathers. She is campaigning for a seat in Congress as a member of the center-right Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB).
Most LGBTQ political candidates in South America’s most populous nation are aligned with the progressive Workers’ Party.
News reports claim her political affiliations are an extension of her sporting career. Abreu’s volleyball club, Volei Bauru, is “sponsored by industries that support the MDB,” according to the Venezuela-based news network teleSUR TV.
The candidate has further dismissed criticism of her support for the MDB, whose most prominent leader is Brazil’s scandal-plagued president, Michel Temer.
“I don’t give any importance to parties, but to people,” Abreu said.
The elections will be held Oct. 7.