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Brazilian LGBTQ lawmakers threatened during conference

VoteLGBT organized Brasília gathering

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LGBTQ elected officials from across Brazil attend a conference in Brasília, Brazil, that took place last week. (Photo by Gui Molhallem)

The LGBTQ Victory Institute on Tuesday condemned the threat that Brazilian lawmakers received during a conference in which it participated in the country’s capital.

A press release notes São Paulo Legislative Assemblywoman-elect Thainara Faria, a Black bisexual woman who is a member of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party, on Jan. 20 “received a threatening, racist and LGBT-phobic email that indicated that they physical integrity of the representatives-elect at our event was at risk.” 

São Paulo Legislative Assemblywoman-elect Thainara Faria speaks at a conference in Brasília, Brazil. (Photo by Gui Molhallem)

Faria is one of the 18 openly LGBTQ congressional and state legislative candidates who won election last October. She, along with transgender Congresswomen Erika Hilton and Duda Salabert and 11 of the other elected officials, attended the first-of-its-kind conference that took place in Brasília.

The Victory Institute notes VoteLGBT, the main organizer that seeks to increase the number of LGBTQ and intersex people in Brazilian politics, reached out to Fábio Félix, a gay member of the Socialism and Liberty Party who is a member of the Federal District’s Legislative Chamber, and Congresswoman Erika Kokay, a member of the Workers Party who represents the Federal District, after Faria received the threat. Félix and Kokay then contacted local authorities who provided conference participants with a police escort. 

Officers patrolled the conference venue, and organizers increased private security. The Victory Institute also notes two Brazilian government ministries — the Human Rights and Citizenship Ministry and the Justice and Public Safety Ministries — have begun to investigate the threat.

The Equal Rights in Action Fund co-organized the conference along with VotoLGBT and the Victory Institute. Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals), a Brazilian trans rights group known by the acronym ANTRA, and Associação Brasileira de Lésbicas, Gays, Bissexuais, Travestis, Transexuais e Intersexos (Brazilian Association of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Travestis, Transsexuals and Intersex People) are among the other groups that sponsored the gathering.

Faria, along with the other elected officials who attended the conference and the groups that organized and sponsored it, in a joint statement said “fascism uses terror in an attempt to paralyze and weaken our fight.”

“They attack us because of our project is powerful,” it reads. “We understand that the best response to this attack — in addition to quickly protecting the threatened representative, reinforcing the security at the event and contacting the competent authorities — is to continue with our agenda and scheduled programming.”

The conference took place less than two weeks after thousands of former President Jair Bolsonaro supporters stormed the Brazilian Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace.

Bolsonaro, a member of the right-wing Liberal Party, sought to discredit the country’s electoral system ahead of last October’s presidential election. Da Silva defeated him in the second round, but Bolsonaro never publicly acknowledged he lost. Bolsonaro flew to Florida two days before Da Silva’s inauguation, which took place on Jan. 1.

Both Hilton and Salabert received threats during their respective campaigns.

Hilton, a Black travesti and former sex worker who was a member of the São Paulo Municipal Council before she won her seat in Congress, acknowledged concerns about her safety when she spoke with the Washington Blade shortly after her election. A security guard stood a few feet away from her while she spoke with this reporter at a pro-Da Silva rally in São Paulo’s Praça Roosevelt.

“I am afraid, but I think that this fear is not going to be able to stop me,” Hilton told the Blade. “It is the fuel that motivates me.”

Former Congressman Jean Wyllys, who is openly gay and a vocal Bolsonaro critic, in 2019 resigned and fled the country after he received death threats. 

Rio de Janeiro Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco, a bisexual woman and single mother of African descent who grew up in a favela near the city’s international airport, and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were murdered on March 14, 2018. Bolsonaro was not president at the time, but one of the two former police officers who have been arrested and charged with the murders lived in the same condominium complex in Rio’s exclusive Barra da Tijuca neighborhood in which the now former president lives. Franco’s widow, Rio Municipal Councilwoman Mônica Benício, last March described this fact to the Blade as “just a coincidence.” 

A Brazilian television station on March 14, 2022, reports on the fourth anniversary of Rio de Janeiro Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco‘s murder. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘We will continue fighting for a democracy for all’

The joint statement that Hilton and the other conference participants signed states the threats against them is “a good example of how political violence works, seeking to silence our voices.” 

“Despite the sabotage of many different actors, including some in their own parties, LGBT+ candidates received more than 3.5 million votes in 2022,” it reads. “Traditional politics needs our voices, because we do not advocate for LGBT+ issues alone; we propose innovative public policies to fight hunger, lack of housing, discrimination and all of the evils plaguing our people.”  

“LGBT+ political strategies will continue to flourish in all spaces, despite threats to any elected representative,” adds the statement. “Attacks will be met with investigations and accountability. United and strong, we will continue fighting for a democracy for all.”  

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South America

Chilean lawmakers reject proposed nondiscrimination law reforms amid tense anti-LGBTQ debate

Statute named after gay man who was killed in 2012

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Transgender Chilean Congresswoman Emilia Schneider, center, speaks to reporters on June 4, 2024, after the country's Chamber of Deputies rejected proposed reforms to the country's Anti-Discrimination Law. (Photo courtesy of Emilia Schneider)

A political earthquake took place in Chile on Tuesday when the Chamber of Deputies rejected proposed reforms to the country’s nondiscrimination law.

The proposed reforms’ objective is “to strengthen the prevention of discrimination and to promote and guarantee in a better way the principle of equality.” Lawmakers in 2012 approved the law, also called the Zamudio Law, named in honor of Daniel Zamudio, a gay 24-year-old man who lost his life after a group of neo-Nazis attacked him in San Borja Park in Santiago, the country’s capital.

Lawmakers by a 69-63 vote margin rejected the proposed reform that President Gabriel Boric’s government introduced. Thirteen deputies abstained.

The Chilean Senate has already approved the proposal. A commission of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress will now consider it.

Most ruling party members supported the bill, while the opposition rejected it as a block.

Congressman Cristóbal Urruticoechea, who is close Republican Party ally, defended his vote against the bill. 

“Of course we must respect the deviation of others, but it does not have to be an obligation to applaud them or to tell our children that there are more than two types of sexes, because that is not discrimination,” he said.

Emilia Schneider, the country’s first transgender congresswoman, said “unfortunately the majority of the House (of Deputies) has rejected the protection of victims of discrimination.” 

“This is not understandable, it is unacceptable and we are here with a group of civil society organizations to call upon the majority of parliamentarians to reconsider so that we can fix this disaster in the mixed commission,” she said. “We have been waiting a long time for a reform to the Anti-Discrimination Law. We have been waiting a long time for an institutional framework that promotes equality and inclusion in our country because today lives continue to be lost due to discrimination and we cannot continue to tolerate that.” 

“Unfortunately, today the Chamber of Deputies is once again turning its back on the citizenry,” added Schneider.    

Rolando Jiménez, director of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, the country’s main queer organization known by the acronym Movilh, in a statement said “today we went back to the past, to the 90s, to the darkest moments for LGBTIQ+ people and discriminated sectors.” 

“Far-right congressmen went to the extreme of describing LGBTIQ+ people as deviants during the debate in the Chamber,” he said. “We are in the presence of the worst legislative scenario for nondiscrimination of which we have ever had record. It is, by all accounts, a civilizational setback.”

María José Cumplido, the executive director of Fundación Iguales, another Chilean advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that “lies were installed” during the debate.

“This is not a bad law,” she said. “It is a law that follows international standards that prevent discrimination and that improves people’s quality of life.”

“We have been talking about security and discrimination for years, it is a security problem that hundreds and thousands of people live with,” added Cumplido. “We want this project to continue advancing so that the State can prevent discrimination and that people can choose their life projects in freedom.” 

‘We will continue the fight’

The proposed reform’s rejection represents a significant setback in the fight for nondiscrimination and equal rights in Chile. 

The proposal sought to establish an anti-discrimination institutional framework, as well as to broaden the possibilities of compensation for victims of discrimination. It also sought to raise the maximum fines for discriminatory acts and to strengthen the State’s anti-discrimination policies.

“We will not lower our flags,” said Jiménez. “We will continue the fight in the Joint Commission.” 

Movilh has urged LGBTQ Chileans and families to protest against the vote during the annual Santiago Pride march that will take place on June 29.

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La Pesada Subversiva battles anti-LGBTQ digital violence in Bolivia

Santa Cruz-based collective is trans, feminist, and sexually diverse

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Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

In Bolivia, the collective La Pesada Subversiva faced an onslaught of digital violence they could have never imagined after showcasing their LGBTQ artwork. Thanks to Hivos’ Digital Defenders Partnership, they received critical support and training to protect themselves, and now have tools to fight against online aggression.

La Pesada Subversiva (The Subversive Troublemakers), a trans, feminist, and sexually diverse collective in Bolivia, has emerged as a form of resistance to patriarchy and gender-based violence. Founded in 2018 in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most conservative regions, the collective uses various art forms — audiovisual, writing, street happenings, and social media content — to express their views in demonstrations, protests, and the virtual realm.

Cristian Egüez (he/him), one of the founders, explains, “In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities. In such a tough context, collectives are needed with the courage to confront them and maintain a critical approach to the violence that occurs.” 

Pride Month and ensuing violence

The Altillo Benni Museum, the largest in the city, commemorated Pride Month for the first time on June 1, 2022. They opened an LGBTQ art exhibition called “Revolución Orgullo” or “Pride Revolution” led by La Pesada Subversiva. The collective’s groundbreaking LGBTQ art exhibition faced vehement opposition.

“We adorned the museum facade with trans and LGBTIQ+ flags,” Egüez recounts, “but it lasted less than a day because a group of neighbors came to protest violently and aggressively.” 

Despite this, the exhibition attracted over 400 visitors, demonstrating growing public support for their cause. 

Confronting online harassment

To the collective’s surprise, the museum’s director defended the exhibition, stating that no artwork would be removed, and the exhibition would remain until the end of the month. But then an unimaginable wave of digital violence hit them. Egüez recalls the aftermath: “The event left us emotionally devastated. Throughout that year, every day, we had to endure threats and harassment online.” 

Alejandra Menacho (she/her), another founder of La Pesada Subversiva, shares her experience, saying, “They threatened to rape me, to teach me how to be a woman. It overwhelmed us; it started to really hurt because we felt … everything we said or did was being surveilled.” The collective faced constant harassment on social media, with anti-rights groups monitoring their activities and scaring them with false threats.

Seeking protection from the Digital Defenders Partnership

As the onslaught escalated, the collective sought refuge and support. They applied for a grant from the DDP to get digital protection and security. With DDP’s assistance, they underwent comprehensive training in digital security measures, enabling them to protect their online presence effectively. The members learned to protect themselves and their accounts, not to publish certain things, and to be cautious about disclosing their whereabouts. DDP’s training gave them a comprehensive understanding of digital security tools and provided clear guidelines for dealing with future incidents and how to report them. 

In addition to these digital security skills, they learned physical self-defense techniques, blending martial arts with a feminist approach. 

“This has strengthened us immensely. Now we understand digital security holistically and are always safeguarding our networks,” Menacho emphasizes. 

Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

The ongoing struggle of online resilience

Despite the challenges, La Pesada Subversiva remains steadfast in their mission. 

“Digital security must be integrated across the board; it’s not something you attend a workshop for and forget. It must be practiced continually,” Egüez asserts. 

For Menacho, even though she has experienced a lot of frustration and anger, learning to combine these digital tools with psychology and art has helped her express themselves and achieve emotional balance. 

“Because we are rebellious, we want to do these things. Also, because we don’t want these injustices to continue in Santa Cruz. That’s why we keep coming back and reinventing ourselves,” Menacho said. 

La Pesada Subversiva’s journey exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities in the face of adversity. Through collective empowerment and solidarity, they navigate the complexities of digital violence, emerging stronger and more united in their pursuit of equality and justice. 

The Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP), managed by Hivos, is an emergency grant mechanism for digital activists under threat launched by the Freedom Online Coalition in 2012. It provides a holistic response to digital threats and creates resilient and sustainable networks of support to human rights defenders.

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Argentine authorities charge 10 police officers with murdering transgender woman

Sofia Fernández brutally killed on April 11, 2023

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Mabel Valdez demands justice for her sister, Sofia Fernández (Courtesy photo)

Argentine authorities have arrested 10 police officers and charged them with murdering a transgender woman in 2023.

In the historic development in the fight for LGBTQ justice in the country, the officers who were arrested on May 1 face murder and hate crime charges in connection with Sofia Fernández’s brutal death on April 11, 2023. The case has uncovered not only entrenched institutional violence, but also the ongoing struggle against impunity for hate crimes.

The initial investigation, which began last September, faced numerous obstacles, with only three points of expertise completed out of the 16 required for a formal indictment. Ignacio Fernandez, a lawyer who represents Sofia Fernández’s family, told the Washington Blade “the family’s lack of confidence in the initial prosecutor led to his departure, which coincided with my arrival to the investigation in September of last year, collaborating in an arduous but vital investigation.”

Ignacio Fernández described the long process to unravel the truth behind the brutal murder.

The legal and forensic teams faced numerous challenges that included coordination with gender-specialized prosecutors to the meticulous analysis of thousands of pieces of data on seized cell phones.

“The forensic report revealed the gruesome nature of the crime; Sofia was killed by asphyxiation with a piece of mattress and her own underwear, in addition to suffering beatings and physical torture,” Ignacio Fernández told the Blade. “Sofía was kept alone in a cell of the 5th Police Station of Pilar, under the custody of the police of the province of Buenos Aires, which triggered an intense scrutiny of the conduct of the police forces.”

The indictment, according to Ignacio Fernández, charges the three policemen with “triple homicide qualified by hatred of their sexual orientation, by the premeditated participation of three or more persons and by the abuse of their position as policemen; while the remaining seven policemen are implicated for the double qualified cover-up for being a very serious crime and for the abuse of their position as policemen in competition with the falsification of public documents.”

“The application of a gender perspective in the judicial process has been crucial, underlining the importance of recognizing and addressing violence directed towards transgender people,” he added.

Ignacio Fernández represents Sofia Fernández’s family (Photo courtesy of Ignacio Fernández)

The road to justice, however, has been far from smooth. 

Despite the arrests, defense lawyers have requested the dismissal of certain charges, arguing the lack of hearings with the victim and rulings that could be questionable in their gender-specific perspective.

Sofia Fernández’s family, fearful for her safety, hopes the defendants will remain in pre-trial detention during the judicial process. They also yearn for a speedy and fair trial, aware that prolonged time may undermine the search for truth and justice.

Ignacio Fernández indicated “the inaction of the Ministry of Women of the province of Buenos Aires” is serious because “on the other hand, the defense lawyers of all the police officers charged are from the Police Legal Department of the Ministry of Security of the province of Buenos Aires and have proposed as expert witnesses experts belonging to the same ministry, with the conflicts of interest that all this entails.”

Although the judicial investigation could take between two and four months, with possible delays due to legal appeals, it is estimated the trial could be delayed at least another year. The fight for justice, in the meantime, continues with the hope that Sofia Fernández’s case will set a precedent in the fight against transphobic violence and impunity in Argentina.

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