(Editor’s note: Two sources quoted in this story — Fernanda Fonseca and Beto de Jesus — shared their personal views on the subject. Their remarks do not represent the views of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.)
SALVADOR, Brazil — Fernanda Fonseca was the coordinator of the Brazilian Health Ministry’s program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and viral hepatitis B in 2019 when she attended the International AIDS Society’s Conference on HIV Science in Mexico City.
Fonseca, who attended the conference in her personal capacity, made a presentation that focused on the issue. Her husband, who at the time coordinated the Brazilian Health Ministry’s viral hepatitis program, also traveled to Mexico City.
One of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s sons soon posted to Twitter a picture of a doctored presentation “about trans community rights, and LGBT community rights” that an unnamed “couple” had made at the conference. The “couple” who Bolsonaro’s son targeted was Fonseca and her husband.
“He was like, this is what the government is standing for,” Fonseca told the Washington Blade on March 16 during an interview at a coffee shop in Salvador, a city in northeastern Brazil that is the capital of Bahia state.
Bolsonaro took office as Brazil’s president on Jan. 1, 2019, after he defeated then-São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad in the second round of the country’s presidential election that took place the previous October.
Fonseca noted one of the first things Bolsonaro did as president was to remove HIV from the name of the Health Ministry department that specifically fights HIV/AIDS in Brazil.
It was previously the Department of Vigilance, Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis. It is now called the Department of Chronic Conditions and Sexually Transmitted Infections.
Bolsonaro fired the department’s director, Adele Benzaken, after he took office. Fonseca said her position was also eliminated without her knowledge while she was on maternity leave.
Fonseca eventually resigned. She now works for AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil as its country medical program director.
“They destroyed my department,” she said. “When I came back (from maternity leave), no one was answering my calls.”
Fonseca is one of the many HIV/AIDS service providers and LGBTQ activists with whom the Blade spoke in Brazil — Salvador, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — from March 12-21. They all sharply criticized Bolsonaro and expressed concern over what may happen in Brazil if he wins re-election later this year.
Bolsonaro is a former Brazilian Army captain who represented Rio de Janeiro in the country’s Congress from 1991-2018.
Fonseca told the Blade that Bolsonaro has banned the Health Ministry from buying lubricants, while adding he “wanted to shut down everything related to HIV.”
“It’s very specific. It’s very homophobic,” she said. “I don’t know who informs him.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil Program Manager Beto de Jesus during a March 14 interview at his office near São Paulo’s Praça da Republica noted Bolsonaro has suggested COVID-19 vaccines can cause AIDS.
“To him, the question of AIDS is connected to faggots,” said De Jesus.
São Paulo’s Municipal Health Secretary distributes free condoms on the city’s subway system. The Brazilian Health Ministry has donated to AIDS Healthcare Foundation antitretroviral drugs that it provides to Venezuelan migrants who receive care at their clinics in Colombia.
Bolsonaro, among many things, has encouraged fathers to beat their sons if they think they are gay. (His son, Rio Municipal Councilman Carlos Bolsonaro, is reportedly gay.)
Jair Bolsonaro in March 2019 during a press conference with then-President Trump in the White House Rose Garden stressed his “respect of traditional family values” — he’s twice divorced and married his third wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, in 2017 — and opposition to “gender ideology.”
A report that Human Rights Watch released earlier this month notes Bolsonaro “has a long history of mischaracterizing and vocally opposing gender and sexuality education, including on the grounds that it constitutes ‘early sexualization’.” Bolsonaro has supported legislation that would limit LGBTQ-specific curricula in the country’s schools, even after the Brazilian Supreme Court struck down local and state laws on the issue.
Jair Bolsonaro was not president when Rio Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco, a bisexual woman of African descent, and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were murdered in Rio’s Lapa neighborhood on March 14, 2018.
Ronnie Lessa, one of the two former police officers who has been arrested in connection with the murders, lived in the same large condominium in Rio’s exclusive Barra da Tijuca neighborhood in which Jair Bolsonaro lives. Franco’s widow, Rio Municipal Councilwoman Mônica Benício, on March 19 said this fact is “just a coincidence.”
Benício during the interview that took place at a coffee shop in downtown Rio stressed Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric against LGBTQ Brazilians, women and other groups was “known” before he became president. Benício also acknowledged it resonates with a segment of Brazilian society.
“It is an absolutely despicable posture and incompatible with a posture of the president of the republic,” said Benício.
Two Brazilian LGBTQ rights groups — Aliança Nacional LGBTI and Grupo Gay da Bahia — in a report they released on May 10 notes 300 LGBTQ Brazilians “suffered violent deaths” because they were murdered or died by suicide. The organizations specifically note Salvador is the most dangerous state capital for LGBTQ people.
The report notes 28 percent of the murder victims were killed with knives, machetes, scissors, hoes and other weapons. One of them was stabbed 95 times.
“The cruelty of how many of these executions were committed demonstrates the extreme hatred of the criminals, who are not content with killing, disfigure the victim washing their murderous homophobia in the spilled blood,” said Aliança Nacional LGBTI President Toni Reis in the report’s introduction.
Grupo Gay da Bahia President Marcelo Cerqueira on March 15 told the Blade during an interview in Salvador that race, poverty, class, machismo and family structures all contribute to the area’s high rate of violence against LGBTQ people.
“There are many relationships with asymmetrical power dynamics,” he noted.
Keila Simpson is the president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals), a Brazilian transgender rights group known by the acronym ANTRA.
She noted to the Blade on March 16 during an interview at her office in Salvador’s Pelourinho neighborhood that the Supreme Court in 2018 ruled trans Brazilians can legally change their name and gender without medical intervention or a judicial order. Simpson said trans Brazilians nevertheless continue to suffer from discrimination, a lack of formal employment and educational opportunities and police violence because of their gender identity. She also added efforts to combat violence against LGBTQ Brazilians have become even more difficult because Bolsonaro is “propagating violence against LGBTQ people every day.”
“It increases the possibility of people who are already violent by nature to continue committing violence,” said Simpson.
Mariah Rafaela Silva, a trans woman of indigenous descent who works with the Washington-based International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, agreed when she and her colleague, Isaac Porto, spoke with the Blade at a restaurant in Rio’s Ipanema neighborhood on March 21.
“If I would choose a word to define Bolsonaro it would be danger,” said Silva. “He represents a danger to the environment. He represents a danger to diversity. He represents a danger to Black people. He represents a danger to indigenous people.”
Rio de Janeiro (State) Legislative Assemblywoman Renata Souza is a Black feminist who grew up with Franco in Maré, a favela that is close to Rio’s Galeão International Airport, and worked with her for 12 years.
Souza in March traveled to D.C. and met with Serra Sippel, chief global advocacy officer for Fòs Feminista, a global women’s rights group, White House Gender Policy Council Senior Advisor Rachel Vogelstein and other officials and women’s rights activists. Souza on Tuesday noted to the Blade that she also denounced Franco’s murder, the “escalation of police violence and Black genocide in Brazil’s peripheries and favelas” and called for international observers in the country for the presidential election when she spoke at the Organization of American States and to members of Congress.
“President Bolsonaro is the expression of a capitalist political project that serves private national and international interests related to the military-industrial complex, religious fundamentalism, agribusiness and the predatory exploitation of natural resources,” said Souza. “This project’s social base comes from the formation of an ideal of barbarism through the use of violence as language and hate as a fuel that spreads a misogynist, racist and fundamentalist culture, discriminatory customs and policies that predatory to nature and to being human.”
The first round of Brazil’s presidential election will take place on Oct. 2.
Polls indicate Bolsonaro is trailing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro has already sought to discredit the country’s electoral system, even though a group of more than 20 would-be hackers who gathered in the Brazilian capital of Brasília last week failed to infiltrate it.
Da Silva, who was Brazil’s president from 2003-2010, is a member of the country’s Workers’ Party.
Sergio Moro, a judge who Jair Bolsonaro later tapped as his government’s Justice and Public Security Minister, in 2017 sentenced Da Silva to 9 1/2 years in prison after his conviction on money laundering and corruption charges that stemmed from Operation Car Wash. The Supreme Court in November 2019 ordered Da Silva’s release.
Marina Reidel, a trans woman who is the director of the country’s Women, Family and Human Rights Department, on Monday told the Blade to email a request for comment on Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-LGBTQ record to a spokesperson. The Blade has yet to receive a response.
Julian Rodrigues, who was the coordinator of the Workers’ Party’s National Working Group from 2006-2012, on Tuesday from São Paulo noted Da Silva in 2004 created the Health Ministry’s “Brazil without Homophobia” campaign that he described as a “pioneering program for LGBT rights.” Rodrigues also highlighted Da Silva created the Culture Ministry’s Diversity Secretariat that, among other things, funded community centers and sought to make police officers and other law enforcement officials more LGBTQ-friendly.
Simpson noted the Health Ministry when Da Silva and President Dilma Rousseff were in office funded projects that specifically helped sex workers and other vulnerable groups.
Rousseff was in office in 2013 when the Supreme Court extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. Michel Temer was Brazil’s president in 2018 when the Supreme Court issued its trans rights decision.
The Supreme Court on May 24, 2019, issued a ruling that criminalized homophobia and transphobia. Bolsonaro, who took office less than five months earlier, condemned the decision.
The Supreme Court in May 2020 struck down the country’s ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood. Brazil in 1999 became the first country in the world to ban so-called conversion therapy.
Rodrigues described Bolsonaro and his administration as “an extreme right-wing, authoritarian and fascist government that uses racial prejudice, gender prejudice and prejudice against LGBTs as engines to mobilize its conservative and reactionary social base.”
“It is a very dangerous government for Brazil’s democratic freedoms,” Rodrigues told the Blade. “The entire Brazilian LGBT movement is fighting ardently to defeat the Bolsonaro government and elect Lula, a progressive president who is committed to the rights of LGBTQ people and all Brazilian people.”
A gay man who was on Rio’s Ipanema Beach with his husband on March 20 told the Blade they support Jair Bolsonaro because they feel he has fought corruption in Brazil. They did, however, add that Jair Bolsonaro “should keep his mouth shut.”
Fonseca said her father voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 because he “hated” Da Silva.
“We don’t live in a democratic state anymore,” said Fonseca, who noted the Supreme Court eventually absolved Da Silva. “We can’t trust the police force. We can’t trust the legal system.”
“People who think like him now they believe they can say that, they have the right to say homophobic things, racist things. They can because our president says them, so it’s ok,” added Fonseca. “We need to remember that it’s not ok. I don’t think they are the majority, So I think when we have a leader again that is strong, we are going back on track.”
Cerqueira echoed Fonseca.
“(Bolsonaro) managed to energize prejudiced people who were not vocal before,” Cerqueira told the Blade on March 15 during an interview in Salvador. “People were afraid to say that I was racist, that I was homophobic, that I was prejudiced. Nowadays everybody wants to be homophobic.”
Porto noted conservatives continue to dominate the country’s Congress and Brazilians who are Black and/or LGBTQ lack political power. He told the Blade the situation in a post-Bolsonaro Brazil is “going to be complicated”
“Brazilian society has not changed,” said Porto. “There is a movement of people who are organized and recognize themselves as equal.”
“There’s a lot of damage that we have to repair,” added Silva.
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Far-right takes control of Chile’s constitutional council
Activists fear LGBTQ, intersex rights could be at risk
In a twist that raises concerns about LGBTQ and intersex rights in Chile, the body charged with writing the country’s new constitution is now under the control of a far-right political coalition that former presidential candidate José Antonio Kast leads.
Compared to the progressive approach that had characterized the previous Constitutional Convention, the change in the composition and the Republican Party’s control of the constitutional council raises serious concerns.
The former council demonstrated a willingness to address equality and nondiscrimination, including the rights of LGBTQ and intersex people. With the Republican Party in control, however, there have been warnings of potential pushback on hate speech and constitutional protections for queer people.
“The current constitutional process is the last effort to replace the current constitution, which, with all the modifications it has undergone, is still the one built during the dictatorship and reformed with the rules established by the dictatorship,” Gaspar Domínguez, an openly gay man who was the vice president of the previous Constitutional Convention, told the Washington Blade.
Chile’s LGBTQ and intersex community for years has been fighting for recognition and equal right, and it is increasingly fearful the Republican Party could thwart these efforts. Marriage equality, nondiscrimination and recognition of gender identity could be at risk.
Chileans in December will have to return to the polls to approve or reject the constitutional council’s proposal. If rejected, the current constitution that dates back to Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and caused widespread social upheaval in 2019 will remain in force.
Domínguez explained “the text that will be submitted to plebiscite at the end of the year will be the result of the deliberation and voting on the amendments of the constitutional council, which is composed mostly by conservative sectors of the Chilean society that opposed the decriminalization of sodomy in 1999, opposed the divorce law in 2004, that have opposed same-sex marriage bills over the last two decades and that have been linked to the most conservative sectors of the right, to the Catholic and Evangelical churches.”
“Considering this political scenario, it is a real option that the proposal to be voted on at the end of the year constitutes a threat to the civilizational advances that have allowed the LGBTIQ+ community to grow in equality,” he noted.
María Pardo, a constitutional lawyer with “Unity for Chile,” the pro-government bloc within the council that champions queer issues, told the Blade “we are in a political context that has led us to write a shorter constitution and with a much more conservative and majority opposition than the previous period that wants to go backwards or not to advance on these issues for different reasons that they use. They consider, for example, that historically oppressed groups enjoy privileges. Faced with sectors (that have) a clear anti-women and anti-sexual diversity agenda, we have to confront them.”
Pardo’s coalition did not present amendments with explicit references to LGBTQ and intersex people because “we did not present aspects as specific as in the convention, but we did present aspects tending to nondiscrimination and recognition of historically vulnerable groups. In this sense, we consider fundamental the development of the so feared, by the right wing, Comprehensive Sexual Education (ESI), as the basis for children and adolescents to feel integrated in safe spaces of development and conversation, leaving out discriminatory stereotypes. In this sense, we insist that comprehensive sexual education is a human right and not a sole and exclusive responsibility of families.”
Gloria Hutt, a constitutional advisor for Evópoli, a center-right political party that supports LGBTQ and intersex rights, indicated the nondiscrimination amendment is not at risk.
“My impression is that it should indeed be approved in the plenary, because it is an obvious right the protection of people’s rights and an element of nondiscrimination,” she told the Blade. “At least, I don’t have the impression that it is at risk.”
Hutt, who was a former minister in President Sebastián Piñera’s government, argues the “lack of mention of specific groups” in the draft constitution “has to do mainly with the fact that the identification of elements of inclusion or nondiscrimination are very many. So, in the constitution, what is left is the general principle and not the specific mention of each one of the groups. That is why nondiscrimination is maintained as a principle, but without specifying the type of discrimination, but of course, sexual orientation.”
Fundación Iguales, a Chilean LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, said they are closely watching the debate over the new constitution and how it will impact queer people.
“We are monitoring the work with concern,” Mauricio Henríquez, the group’s legal director, told the Blade. “Extreme conservative discourses could directly harm the rights of LGBTI+ people.”
Henríquez added “historically, the conservative ultra-right has opposed the recognition and protection of the rights of sexual and gender diversity. They were against the Civil Union Agreement, equal marriage, the regulation of gender Identity, etc. So, given this background and the harsh comments expressed by some councilors regarding rights and freedoms in the last weeks, it would not be surprising that the constituent drafting would take the same course as the aforementioned rights.”
Henríquez finally pointed out that “more than a setback, there is a kind of invisibilization of historically discriminated groups, including LGBTI+ people.”
“Here it is important to make clear that the state of Chile and the inhabitants of this country already have a commitment to sexual and gender diversity that no political sector, no matter how conservative or extremist it may be, can deny,” he said. “For this reason, the call we make from Fundación Iguales is that the constitutional advisors legislate looking at the reality of a country that day by day advances in freedom, development and protection of human rights.”
Brazilian Supreme Court rules homophobia punishable by prison
Justices on Monday issued near unanimous decision
The Brazilian Supreme Federal Court this week ruled homophobia now punishable with up to five years in prison.
The justices on Monday ruled by a 9-1 margin. Their decision equates homophobia to racism in terms of prison time.
The Supreme Federal Court in 2019 criminalized homophobia and transphobia. The Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Travestis, Transsexuals and Intersex People petitioned for additional protections and penalties.
“Such a decision brings legal certainty and reinforces the court’s understanding with regard to the principle of equality and nondiscrimination,” said the National LGBTI+ Alliance, a Brazilian LGBTQ and intersex rights group, in a statement. “It is an important step in the civilizing process and in the fight against hatred in Brazilian society.”
Congresswoman Erika Hilton, who is transgender, in a tweet described the ruling as a “victory against LGBTphobia.”
The Supreme Federal Court issued its ruling less than eight months after President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office.
His predecessor, former President Jair Bolsonaro, faced sharp criticism over his rhetoric against LGBTQ and intersex Brazilians and other groups.
Bolsonaro, among other things, encouraged fathers to beat their sons if they come out as gay and claimed people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are at increased risk for AIDS. The country’s Federal Police last August urged prosecutors to charge Bolsonaro with incitement over his COVID-19 claim.
Argentine activists raise alarm over far-right primary victory
Javier Milei won Aug. 13 primary, LGBTQ candidates also advanced
The results of Argentina’s primary elections on Aug. 13 have exposed a political landscape that combines significant advances in LGBTQ and intersex rights with the worrying expansion of the far-right in that country. In an election in which only a few openly queer candidates managed to advance to the general elections on Oct. 22, the LGBTQ and intersex community is watching closely the rise of conservative tendencies that could impact their rights.
The results had an unexpected protagonist: Ultra-right wing candidate Javier Milei won the most votes.
With almost 7 million votes — about 30.1 percent of the total cast — the libertarian economist leader of La Libertad Avanza capitalized upon Argentines’ discontent with leftist President Alberto Fernández’s government.
Former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, who was part of right wing President Mauricio Macri’s government, and her “Together for Change” coalition finished second with 28.3 percent of the votes. Peronism, represented by Finance Minister Sergio Massa and his “Unión por la Patría” ruling coalition, obtained 27.2 percent, which is its worst result since 2011.
Milei’s running mate, Congresswoman Victoria Villarruel, during the campaign spoke against marriage rights for same-sex couples, saying a union between people of the same sex was already “guaranteed with the civil union.” Milei himself also spoke against sexual and gender diversity.
Reina Ibañez became the first transgender woman presidential candidate in Argentina’s history. She won enough votes to stay in the race.
Ibañez told the Washington Blade she feels like a winner for making history in Argentina.
“It was a triumph to be the first trans candidate for president of Argentina,” said Ibañez. “This marks a historical fact here in the country.”
For her, “the triumph of the ultra-right here in Argentina I attribute it to the fact that more and more people are buying the discourse of the right and in this case the ultra-right won, which in this case would be Milei with his discourse of anti-politics, anti-caste and it worries that this type of characters have won in Argentina.”
“We will be vigilant and attentive so that they do not take away the rights we have won,” she said.
Ibañez added “it is a threat to the LGBT community because Milei said that there is no need for the ministry of gender and women in his campaign. And he is against LGBT people, so if the same result is confirmed in October, it will be a very difficult country for all sectors, not only for the LGBT community.”
Esteban Paulón, a well-known activist, in a historic milestone won enough votes in his race to become a congressman to advance to the general elections.
“We obtained 62,000 votes throughout my province and we need to increase to a little more than double that to manage to fight for the seat on Oct. 22,” Paulón told the Blade.
The candidate for the province of Santa Fe in northeastern Argentina explained “we are going to intensify the campaign in the big cities, the tours in the towns and communes of Santa Fe and seek the support of those who, in spite of the national panorama, want to count on a voice that will defend the rights of all in Congress.”
On the other hand, Santiaga D’Ambrosio, a nonbinary candidate of the Popular Left Front, explained to the Blade that they believe “the electoral triumph of the ultra-right in Argentina is an expression, distorted, of punishment vote to the current national government of the Front of All, with a still very fresh memory of what was Mauricio Macri’s government.”
“We must be clear about two things: That the electorate as a whole does not fully and consciously share the program of political-economic subordination to the United States and the cut to basic rights such as health, education and work; and on the other hand, that an electoral victory is not a blank check so that it can implement the whole of its liberal program as we saw in Jujuy winning Morales with a 54 percent of the votes and then having a popular rebellion that was an example of how to face the adjustment,” stressed D’Ambrosio.
Finally, they indicated that “it must be emphasized that this is not an ideological vote, but one identified with anger towards the political caste and the great economic problems of the country, without ever talking about the role played by businessmen and that caste of which he is a part.”
Far right’s rise a challenge for LGBTQ rights
The primary election has highlighted the rise of far-right tendencies in Argentina, which has raised concerns within the LGBTQ and intersex community. With parties and candidates seeking to curtail LGBTQ and intersex rights and speaking out against sexual diversity, many activists fear the gains they have made in recent years could be at risk.
Among the group that supports Milei there are recognized anti-rights militants, deniers of the dictatorship and climate change, and anti-LGBT+ rights, which they have characterized as privileged,” said Paulón.
The candidate added “in this sense Milei’s electoral rise implies a concrete risk for queer people, both because of the possibility of regression in terms of rights, Milei’s vice presidential candidate has proposed to repeal equal marriage and sanction a different civil union for queer couples. At the same time she is a militant against comprehensive sex education and the alleged gender ideology.”
LGBTQ and intersex activists are in an effort to mobilize voters and raise awareness about the importance of maintaining and strengthening the gains made in equal rights and acceptance of diversity. The general election is shaping up to be an opportunity for Argentine citizens to take a clear position on the political and social direction the country will take in the coming years.
Flavia Massenzio, president of the LGBT+ Federation of Argentina, the most important queer organization in that country, told the Blade that “it is a very worrying result for the right wing in Argentina.”
“The truth is that both the equal marriage law, the gender identity law, as well as many advances that Argentina had, may be at risk with the advances of these candidates if they are actually elected,” lamented Massenzio.
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