May 29, 2019 at 8:40 pm EST | by Felipe Alface
Brazil Supreme Court criminalizes homophobia, transphobia
Brazil’s Supreme Court on May 28, 2019, ruled homophobia and transphobia can be criminalized in the country. (Photo by Ricardo via Flickr)

The majority of the Brazilian Supreme Court on May 28 voted to equate homophobia and transphobia to the crime of racism.

The voting has not ended and will continue on June 5, but May 28’s historic decision saw six of the 11 possible votes in favor.

The ruling, in practical terms, means crimes like assault, homicide, slander or defamation committed in any sphere against LGBTI people are now a crime. It is also a rebuke of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been sharply criticized over his anti-LGBTI rhetoric and policies since he took office on Jan. 1.

“Rulings that think about groups that are historically vulnerable have the power to restore society’s paradigms,” São Paulo Congresswoman Érica Malunguinho, the first transgender congresswoman elected in Brazil, told the Washington Blade. “They redesign the social overview in ways that in this case it is no longer possible to make precarious LGBTIQ+ lives or produce crimes that happen against LGBTIQ+ bodies.”

“What keeps worrying us is that this ruling equalizes homophobia to the crime of racism but there is still a cycle of impunity to racism crimes in our society today,” she added. “So, it is important that aside from the laws there are awareness campaigns around diversity and its issues. That is fundamental to making those laws viable because without an established pact with the society laws can became nothing but theoretical.”

But that doesn’t mean it is all sunshine and rainbows for the LGBTI community in Brazil from now on.

Evangelicals both in the Brazilian Senate and Congress are trying, as usual, to make it as difficult as they can for LGBTI Brazilians to have their rights guarantees.

On the eve of what would become the day the Supreme Court approved the criminalization of homophobia and transphobia by a majority vote, the Senate approved a proposal that also matches the crime of homophobia to the crime of racism with a catch. The bill exempts what it calls “religious freedom” to talk about the LGBTI community with a “critical tone,” which basically approves a law against anti-LGBTI discrimination as long as churches, temples and religious services and leaders can still deliver discriminatory speeches.

The bill was approved by a 20-1 vote margin in the Senate and will now be voted on by the Senate’s Constitution Justice and Citizenship Committee.

In Brazil, the Supreme Court only votes on temporary laws on issues that are being ignored by the Legislative Branch. So, if a bill proposed by the Congress or the Senate about the same issue is approved, the measure approved by the Judiciary Branch is no longer effective.

“The Senate law getting approved supports the continuation of the hate spreading speech adopted by religious groups in our country,” reflects Malunguinho. “But in any case, any law approved would be nothing if we can’t guarantee that all sectors of society have access to that law. A good example about that is that a great many … women are still victims of violence and murder, even though we have a law preventing women against violence and femicide.”

Érica Malunguinho, gay news, Washington Blade
São Paulo Congresswoman Érica Malunguinho is a transgender Brazilian woman of African descent who was elected last fall. She is the first openly trans woman elected to a state congress in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Comunicação Alesp)

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

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