August 22, 2018 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Felipe Alface
Do Brazil’s gay-friendly certified cities protect LGBTI residents?

Florianópolis, Brazil. (Photo by Rodrigo Soldon via Flickr)

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Brazil’s tourism board has certified seven cities — Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, Salvador, Porto Alegre, Florianópolis and the country’s capital of Brasília — as gay-friendly destinations. But are these cities doing enough to protect their LGBTI residents?

According to a report issued this year by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation’s Public Policies Analysis Directory, the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro had the highest number of complaints of LGBTI-related crimes in 2017. The Federal District in which Brasília is located had the most complaints per 100,000 people.

The data contained in this study is based on complaints to the Dial 100 service the Brazilian Human Rights Ministry reported.

The Dial 100 service was created specifically to map information around human rights violations based on factors that include prejudice and homophobia. This data would then be used to support the creation of new public policies and programs designed to help the LGBTI community cope with discrimination and educate Brazilians around issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Dial 100 website notes the service received 1,720 complaints of violations against LGBTI people in 2017. These statistics include 193 homicides, which are 127 percent higher than the previous year.

So how can Brazil, with those numbers and the highest rate of transgender murders in the world, ever be considered gay-friendly by Embratur, the country’s tourism board?

According to “Depois do fervo” (“After the party is over”), a documentary that focuses on the everyday life of LGBTI people in Florianópolis, the answer is simple: The beach city in southern Brazil has a lot to give as far as natural beauty and seasonal opportunities — like carnival and the city’s Pride celebration — to attract “pink money.”

Florianópolis has beaches that are popular with gay men from across the region. It is therefore important for local officials to project to tourists an image that has nothing to do with the everyday life of LGBTI people living in the city, which, according to the last Census in Brazil has the highest concentration of LGBTI people within the country.

Another counterpoint to Florianópolis’ gay-friendly moniker can be seen in the number of cases of violence the Association in Defense of Human Rights (ADEH), a local advocacy group, documents, which averages 70 a month. ADEH encourages local residents who are attacked because of their sexual orientation and gender identity to go to the organization first because it is the ones dealing with “gay issues,” which further highlights how unprepared police officers and other public service providers in cities that are considered to be gay-friendly are in dealing with LGBTI-specific issues.

ADEH actually provides one of the only places to meet, discuss and judicial and psychological support in the city.

“Florianópolis is a gay-friendly city as long as the tourist has money to spend in local businesses,” “Depois do fervo” director Matheus Faisting told the Washington Blade. “We don’t have enough public policies to promote the city as a capital where LGBT phobia is fought against, for example. It is all a question of marketing used to promote the city to a niche with high purchasing power while not really worrying if these LGBT tourists will actually be safe during their stay here. One of the things that surprised me while researching for the movie was that there are much more cases of violence against LGBT people than I already knew. The numbers are high but that reality is under shown to attract pink money from tourists.”

Porto Alegre, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil, is another example of a certified gay-friendly city where the reality of its LGBTI residents is different.

The state from the outside seems to be in the forefront of LGBTI issues, since two emblematic wins for the community took place there: The first civil union recognized by the Brazilian Supreme Court before same-sex marriage was approved across the country in 2013 and the first adoption by a same-sex couple.

According to Priscila Leote, president of the State Council for the Promotion of LGBT Rights, an organization that is part of the Rio Grande do Sul state government, those two legal victories should not be seen as a barometer of where the state is with regards to supporting LGBTI rights, since they are individual cases and don’t represent the sense of abandonment members of the community in Porto Alegre and across the state feel.

Leote said members of the community feel abandoned, in part, because there is a lack of places to get together and simply be part of the community.

Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Photo by Felipe Valduga via Creative Commons)

Porto Alegre has a general shortage of LGBTI-identified places to gather, including gay bars and night clubs. There are also few options to support Leote’s group to further LGBTI-specific issues in the city.

To understand how Porto Alegre is an example of a city that is only LGBTI-friendly on paper, one can use the example of its Pride parade.

The parade became a part of the city’s official calendar this year but it is also set to take place without any financial support from the mayor’s office for the second year.

“Even the date offered to us to throw this year’s Pride as a part of the calendar of the city is a problem, since we have done it for 21 years in the park and on the date they offered, the park is not available to receive our Pride,” said Leote.

Leote also said anti-LGBTI violence in Porto Alegre remains a problem.

The Reference Center for Victims of Violence in Porto Alegre, which the local government created, on its website says it is prepared to assist every victim of violence, whether they are a child, a woman, an elderly person or a member of the LGBTI community. But that information is not widely known and Leote said she feels the people working in those centers aren’t equipped to assist LGBTI people because they are not properly trained. So, most violence complaints are received by e-mail at the State Council for the Promotion of LGBT Rights or forwarded to it by the Dial 100 service or even officers at police stations who receive them.

Porto Alegre is one of few places in Brazil that has a city law against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation. Activists nevertheless remain critical of the mechanisms in place to report it.

“One of the biggest problems of being LGBT in Porto Alegre, or even in Brazil as a country, is that we advance a lot in sexuality and identity discussions, but most people aren’t prepared to back themselves up politically as a part of the LGBT community,” said Leote. “We don’t elect LGBT candidates. So, we see advances in ways and freedom to express ourselves as we are but in the political sphere we haven’t graduated yet.”

“Because we still don’t have public policies more importantly to help us being safe as we are in a place where violence rates and religious fundamentalism are growing faster than we can organize ourselves politically to fight against those things that work to oppress us as a community,” she added.

The Blade has reached out to Embratur for comment.

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

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