April 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm EDT | by Felipe Alface
Brazil presidential campaign is a defining moment for LGBT community

Jair Bolsonaro (Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

SÃO PAULO — According to the latest polls in the 2018 presidential campaign, the LGBT community in Brazil is about to start worrying about their future because all roads lead to at a least a deep sense of uncertainty.

As soon as the year began in Brazil, the polls started to measure the political climate for this election year. Still measuring possible candidates, instead of confirmed ones, it seemed like anyone would have a shot at becoming the country’s next president: Former candidates, prominent politicians and even television personalities.

But as we say in Brazil, the year only starts after Carnival and that is exactly when the presidential campaign started to come into clearer focus with the withdrawal of candidates who were unable to keep running. And former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was the first one to lose his prestige.

Many in the LGBT community saw him as their last hope, since they could see what was coming without him running.

The first polls of the year showed he was leading among potential voters along with Jair Bolsonaro and was expected to be elected by a 10 percent margin.

The Brazilian Supreme Court in January upheld Lula’s 12-year prison sentence for receiving bribes in exchange for contracts with Petrobras, the state-owned energy and oil company.
Even though he has begun to serve his sentence that his supporters have condemned, he still has the support of 30 percent of the electorate and he knows it. Proof of this support is the thousands of his supporters who attended a Mass in honor of his late-wife, Marisa Leticia, on April 7 that became a political rally.

He surrendered to the Federal Police a few hours later.

In that scenario, all the primary polls pointed to Bolsonaro, a congressman who is homophobic and misogynous, as the frontrunner in the presidential campaign. Praised by many exactly because of his extreme right-wing and prejudicial opinions, he is a product of himself and his outrageous public allegations.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Photo by Ricardo Stuckert; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Bolsonaro is among the members of Congress who voted to impeach then-President Dilma Rousseff. Instead of simply saying he backed her impeachment, he took advantage of the televised proceedings by saluting Col. Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who tortured Rousseff during Brazil’s dictatorship that lasted from 1964-1985.

Bolsonaro also participated in “Gaycation,” a Viceland documentary series produced by actress Ellen Page, and said the “problem” of gay people is behavioral. He said liberal habits, drug use and more women in the workforce caused gay people to become more visible over the last decades.

In that same documentary, Page achieves the very point that brings the most fear on LGBT people in Brazil: Bolsonaro has a distain for the gay community. Even though he no longer leads in the presidential polls, activists still see him as a threat because they fear his campaign will provide him with an opportunity to state his opinions in a way that will incite anti-LGBT hate crimes.

And that brings us to Marina Silva, the candidate backed by the Parliamentary Evangelical Front of the Congress who is the new presidential frontrunner.

Silva is well known to the LGBT community for her actions in her 2014 presidential campaign.

She was the first candidate that year to release her platform in which she defended two big issues for LGBT voters: Her support for marriage rights for same-sex couples and the criminalization of anti-gay crimes. It was a shocking surprise that lasted only 24 hours.

Threatened by members of her own party and fearing they would no longer support her campaign, Silva removed from her website within a day statements that indicated her support of these issues. But it was just all a big political maneuver and one that many observers saw as desperate.

Polls showed Silva was losing ground as the left-wing candidate in 2014 and wisely decided to state her support for LGBT rights in a move that instantly made her the favorite candidate of the majority of undecided voters both within and outside the community. Her numbers rose, but she ultimately decided to go back to her evangelical roots and supporters.

Silva was never the left-wing frontrunner in the 2014 elections. Rousseff was a much more popular candidate and she was eventually re-elected.

So what was Silva doing in 2014?

She became a presidential candidate in order to see how much buzz she could generate with one eye looking towards the future.

So now, in 2018, she is back and her name couldn’t be hotter. The latest polls show her in the lead, and Brazil has more evangelicals in Congress and in society who are willing to vote for her. Candidates running as “the evangelical candidate” have been elected by large margins over the last few years, including Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella in 2016.

If Silva learned another lesson from Crivella, she will understand there is a difference in the power of running as the evangelical candidate and being hated afterwards for trying to govern in a way that promotes evangelical beliefs.

Known as one of the biggest spectacles on earth and backed by the city government, Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival generates hundreds of millions of dollars for its tourism industry. Evangelicals also condemn Carnival as “the party of the flesh,” so Crivella in 2017 cut by half the city’s funding of the annual event at a time when the number of tourists is dropping because of increased violence.

But has Silva learned from her past mistakes and the ones made by her colleagues?

That is yet to be decided since the number that will determine what kind of campaign she will run remains unknown. Lula seems to be out of the picture as a presidential candidate, but 30 percent of voters likely still support him and he will have to choose a left-wing candidate to back as he continues to maintain his allegiances and political relevance without running for another term. Silva is perfect for that, since she was, among other things, Brazil’s environment minister during Lula’s presidency.

Marina Silva (Photo by msilvaonline via Flickr)

The moment Lula decides which candidate he is backing is the moment we understand the margin by which Silva will need to win if she hopes to become president. Even if she plays push and pull with her evangelical supporters in the Congress and the LGBT electorate like she did in 2014, being backed by Lula and his voters will guarantee her win with flying colors. But if the support coming from Lula and his political power goes to another candidate, Silva will have to show what kind of candidate she has shaped up to be since her last run, giving LGBT Brazilians the opportunity of getting to know what she’s made of and just what are her true political beliefs.

“Both candidates are bad for the promotion of the LGBT citizenship,” says Symmy Larrat, president of the Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transgender People (ABGLTA). “One of them is open with his bigotry (Bolsonaro) and the other knows how to mask it in her favor (Silva.) We have seen in city halls around Brazil what is happening when someone who runs as the evangelical candidate wins. They don’t put an end to existing LGBT policies, but stop investing in their moving forward, stagnating the promotion of wellbeing for the LGBT population. We believe that this will be the campaign of polarities. But I still believe that we won’t have the entire country behind hatred.”

Felipe Alface is a Brazilian author of the novel "Cicatrizes e Tatuagens" ("Scars and Tattoos") and digital content specialist.

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