When it comes to LGBT rights, Brazil is as ambivalent as it is on everything else. The country has openly gay artists; it’s home to one of the largest Gay Pride parades in the world; gay marriage is legally recognized. There is even a fairly bankable gay tourism, though it did take a hit as grim stories about open warfare in the streets have gone back on the news.
But step beyond the high-profile events and the killing LGBT people is as Brazilian as clichés of football and beach sambas. Hate crimes are a homegrown, well-honed Brazilian tradition. You don’t need to look far to find evidence of it: it is one of the most violent states in the world for LGBT people, with the number of crimes rising. To these statistics, the Brazilian authorities offer not much more than a polite shrug and a reminder it could be much worse.
Some victims, like the trans woman Dandara dos Santos, who was filmed by her attackers begging for her for life before being killed, become international news. The majority don’t.
Like every other minority in Brazil, LGBT people live in the in-between space of acceptance and exclusion. Often, one has the impression that there is a certain air of corruption to LGBT life; just as you might know that the son of a friend does drugs in his leisure time, you might also learn that he is a homosexual. You can be gay, but only in the privacy of your own home, in the place where Brazilians learned to tolerate other dirty things. You can marry your spouse, but not hold their hand in public. It’s a balance that those form a more middle class, whiter, background can manage. Others can’t.
The problem is that increasingly, ambiguity seems to have taken a turn for the worst.
Understanding what is behind this pushback against LGBT advances starts with understanding the country’s right. After four consecutive defeats on a Presidential level, the Brazilian right-wing parties had shifted into a much more aggressive beast. It had successfully associated social justice rhetoric with the corruption of the Worker’s Party. The new right is largely made up of middle-class people who, influenced by foreign politicians such as Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, rediscovered dictatorship-era speeches. Their main representative is the truculent congressman and presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro, who praised the words of Rousseff’s torturer in Congress.