November 25, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Report documents anti-trans violence, bias in Brazil
Jean Wyllys, Brazil, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys (Photo courtesy of Jean de Wyllys)

A D.C.-based international human rights organization earlier this month released a report that documents violence and discrimination against transgender Brazilians of African descent.

The Global Rights report includes statistics from the Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights that indicate trans Brazilians accounted for slightly more than half of the 300 reported LGBT murder victims in the country last year. The group noted an estimated 52 percent of them were people of color.

Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian advocacy group that has tracked anti-LGBT violence in Brazil for nearly two decades, said it saw a 21 percent increase in LGBT murders in the country between 2011 and 2012. The organization reported 128 of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.

Grupo Gay da Bahia further noted 250 LGBT Brazilians have been killed so far this year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported 20 trans people were murdered in Brazil in August and September.

The Global Rights report also cites additional statistics that show the homicide rate among Brazilians of African descent rose 5.6 percent between 2002 and 2010, compared to the 24.8 percent decline in these crimes among white Brazilians during the same period.

The Global Rights report also documents pervasive discrimination against trans Brazilians of African descent in law enforcement and employment and in the country’s education and health care systems because of their gender identity and expression and race.

The organization says Brazilian police frequently force trans women of color to strip naked in public and use racial, transphobic and homophobic slurs against them. The Global Rights report also documents cases where authorities transport trans suspects and detainees in the trunks of police cars and other confined spaces.

It also cites a researcher who documents anti-trans discrimination in Brazil that concluded an estimated 90 percent of trans women in the country are functionally illiterate due to discrimination they experienced in the Brazilian education system. A 2012 study from the Latin American School of Social Sciences, which is an inter-governmental initiative that UNESCO founded in the late 1950s, found roughly 51 percent of Brazilians of African descent are functionally illiterate.

“With a reality marked by multiple forms of discrimination, the LGBT community in Brazil has struggled to ensure that the human rights to life and public policies reach these groups,” Naiara Leite of the Odara Black Woman’s Institute in the city of Salvador said during a hearing on violence against trans Brazilians of African descent that the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights held in D.C. on Oct. 29. “Over the last few years, the Brazilian LGBT rights movement has been greatly concerned with the excessive increase of murders and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and most importantly with the increase in violence against trans people.”

Brazil is among the 15 countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

Then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1997 created what became known as the Secretariat for Human Rights. Brazil in 2003 became the first country in the world to establish a government ministry specifically charged with promoting racial equality.

Brazilian Congressman Marco Feliciano in March became president of the Commission for Human Rights and Minorities in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress amid controversy over anti-gay and racist statements he posted to his Twitter account. Gay Congressman Jean Wyllys and other commission members resigned in protest of Feliciano’s election and formed a separate human rights caucus that lacks legislative authority.

The Commission for Human Rights and Minorities last week approved a measure that would suspend the National Council of Justice ruling in May that opened the door to same-sex marriage in South America’s largest country. Commissioners also backed a proposal that seeks to hold a national referendum on gay nuptials and rejected a bill that would have extended tax and legal benefits to same-sex couples and their dependents.

“If there is a country in the world that has made efforts in combating racial discrimination it is Brazil,” Carlos Quesada of Global First said during the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing. “In spite of these efforts to promote human rights, the reality in the country is different.”

João Guilherme Maranhão of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations defended his country’s LGBT rights record during the hearing.

He noted Brazil and Uruguay were the first countries to introduce an LGBT rights resolution to the United Nations in 2007.

The Organization of American States during its 2008 general assembly adopted an anti-LGBT violence resolution that Brazil introduced. Maranhão noted to the commission it has subsequently been renewed and expanded.

“The situation of violence faced by transsexuals and transvestites in Brazil is an issue that merits the state’s attention,” he said.

Wyllys, who represents the state of Rio de Janeiro in the Brazilian Congress, told the Washington Blade earlier this month that discrimination against trans people of African descent has “a long history in Brazil.”

“The trans population is less educated and the most vulnerable to experience sexual and police violence,” he told the Blade during an interview from Brasilia, the country’s capital.

Wyllys added he feels President Dilma Rousseff has responded “shamefully” to the problem.

The Global Rights report specifically calls upon Rousseff to condemn “all incidents of discrimination, violence and human rights violations” against trans and other LGBT Brazilians of African descent. It also calls upon her government to develop a comprehensive plan to address the aforementioned issues.

The organization also urges Brazilian lawmakers to ban anti-LGBT discrimination and violence.

“We need more political and public discourse to increase understanding,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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