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Transgender Brazilian government official travels to D.C.

Symmy Larrat sat down with the Washington Blade on June 16



Brazilian National Secretary for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights of LGBTQIA+ People Symmy Larrat at the National Press Club in D.C. on June 16, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A transgender woman who is a member of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government said the storming of her country’s Congress, Presidential Palace and Supreme Court in January sparked outrage among many Brazilians.

Symmy Larrat, who is Brazil’s National Secretary for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of LGBTQIA+ People, spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade on June 16. She was in D.C. to participate in an Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights conference.

Thousands of supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro on Jan. 8 stormed the country’s Congress, Presidential Palace and Supreme Court.

Da Silva took power a week before the insurrection. His predecessor, who did not accept last October’s election results, was in Florida when Da Silva took office. 

Bolsonaro has since returned to Brazil.

“There are two aspects of Jan. 8. The first that scares me the most is people now think we won the election and we’re set and nobody protected themselves against what happened,” Larrat told the Blade, speaking through a Brazilian Embassy staffer who translated for her. “That moment signaled for all of us how absurd the extremists are. The other side doesn’t respect the democratic system.” 

“On the other hand it showed Brazil that what we were denouncing as a very aggressive posture was a reality,” she added. “Brazilians are very patriotic and people felt offended by it.”

Brazilian National Secretary for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights of LGBTQIA+ People Symmy Larrat, left, listens to International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights Executive Director Carlos Quesada at the National Museum of African American History in D.C. on June 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Larrat was born and raised in Belém, a city near the mouth of the Amazon River in the country’s Pará state.

Her parents were history teachers, and she said that’s why she “always had this questioning, curiosity” about different social justice movements. Larrat studied communications at the Federal University of Pará and her advocacy began with what she described to the Blade as “the democratization of communication structures and networks.”

Larrat later became an LGBTQ and intersex rights activist.

She organized Pride parades, helped establish NGOs and founded a shelter and community center for vulnerable LGBTQ and intersex people. Larrat told the Blade she responded to the lack of support for LGBTQ and intersex people in Belém and throughout the Brazilian Amazon.

“That’s what made me sense the necessity of justice and inequality because of the lack of support for LGBT people in the Amazon is just one of the things that we lack in the region,” she said. “It’s a region with a lack of information, technology. It’s a very colonized region in the worst sense of the word; not colonized only by the world, but also colonized by Brazil, the lack of policies for development.”

“It is a region that is very rich with a very poor population, so there is still an extractivist logic. that we develop consumer products and we feed the international regions, but we don’t benefit from what is created,” she added, noting it is often to travel from São Paulo to other countries than it is to fly from the country’s commercial capital to Belém and other cities in the Amazon. “The access is difficult. You don’t have access to medical care, information technology. There’s a lot of difficult access to information and information technology.”

Larrat said she knew she “had a feeling as a teenager that I was transgender, but at that time I didn’t see transgender people in places of power.” 

Brazilian model Roberta Close, who is trans, was well-known throughout the country in the 1980s. Larrat said trans people at that time were prominent in Brazilian media and art, but “mostly in a pejorative way.”

“I had the conscience that I needed to study, to take myself out of this situation of vulnerability, so I had to study,” she said.

Larrat came out as trans when she was 30.

She was already active in various social movements, but she engaged in sex work “to survive.” Larrat said her family kicked her out of their home when she was a teenager, but she “reconnected with” her mother after she transitioned. Larrat told the Blade that her family now accepts her gender identity.

“The truth was what I was saying gave her (my mother) an understanding of my suffering and then she accompanied me with all my transitioning processes and that made her understand and she got scared about aggressions that I may suffer from society,” she said. “That’s when we reconnected, with her and with all of her family. Today they’re very accepting of it.”

Bolsonaro government was ‘terrifying’

Former President Dilma Rousseff’s government in 2013 invited Larrat to join the country’s Human Rights Ministry as an assistant for LGBTQ and intersex rights. Larrat joked she “was prostituting myself at night … and the next night I went to Brasília to go to the federal government.”

“That’s exactly what happened,” she said.

Larrat left the government once Rousseff was impeached in 2016.

Bolsonaro, a former congressman and former Brazilian Army captain, took office in 2019. He faced sharp criticism because of his rhetoric against LGBTQ and intersex Brazilians, women, people of African and indigenous descent and other groups.

The former president, among other things, encouraged fathers to beat their sons if they came out as gay. A Brazilian Federal Police investigator last August called for prosecutors to charge Bolsonaro with incitement for spreading false information about COVID-19 after he said people who are vaccinated against the virus are at increased risk for AIDS. 

“It was terrifying to be there during the Bolsonaro government because we were seeing the public policies all being deconstructed, being destroyed,” said Larrat. “We knew the impacts of it on the lives of people, but it was a shock to all of us the institutionalization of hate speech.”

Larrat further stressed the majority of Brazilians do “not agree with the hate speech, but they are influenced by it.” Larrat also said this hate speech — “we have to protect our children. I can be who I am, but I cannot be it in front of children” — is part of a larger strategy to make Brazilians afraid of LGBTQ and intersex people.

“It’s speech that paints us as a menace and puts fear in people,” she said.

Anti-Jair Bolsonaro flyers on Paulista Avenue in São Paulo, on March 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Friday banned Bolsonaro from running for office until 2030. The Associated Press noted five of the court’s seven judges agreed the former president used “official communications channels to promote his campaign” and spread disinformation about last year’s election.

Larrat admitted the 2022 campaign was “very difficult” for Brazil. She stressed Da Silva won, in part, because he believes in democracy.

“The power of dialogue that he has is impressive; the capacity to speak to everybody, to speak with both sides on each day,” said Larrat. “He negotiates with both sides. He’s a very good political articulator.”

Brazil’s Planalto (Presidential) Palace illuminated in rainbow colors in honor of Pride month. (Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Erika Hilton/Twitter)

Congresswomen Erika Hilton and Duda Salabert, who are both transgender, won their respective elections last October.

Larrat, who said she is friends with both of them, told the Blade trans Brazilians still lack representation in the country’s political process. Larrat, however, did stress Hilton and Salabert’s election is an important step forward for the country.

“It’s still very little,” said Larrat. “We went from nothing to something.”

Brazilian Congresswoman Erika Hilton speaks at an LGBTQ Victory Institute-sponsored conference in Brasília, Brazil, in January. (Photo by Ester Cruz)

South America

Far-right takes control of Chile’s constitutional council

Activists fear LGBTQ, intersex rights could be at risk



More than 100,000 people attended a Pride protest in Santiago, Chile, on June 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Gonzalo Velásquez)

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.

Gaspar Domínguez made history in Chile when he was elected as vice president of the Constitutional Convention. (Courtesy photo)

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.”

María Pardo is a respected lawyer who specializes in constitutional law (Photo courtesy of María Pardo)

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.” 

Gloria Hutt is a politician from the traditional Chilean right who has positioned herself as an ally of queer rights (Photo courtesy of Gloria Hutt)

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.”

Mauricio Henríquez told the Washington Blade Fundación Iguales is closely watching the current constitutional process. (Courtesy photo)

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.”

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South America

Brazilian Supreme Court rules homophobia punishable by prison

Justices on Monday issued near unanimous decision



Pride flags fly over Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro on March 20, 2022. Brazil's Supreme Federal Court has ruled homophobia is now punishable with up to five years in prison. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.

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South America

Argentine activists raise alarm over far-right primary victory

Javier Milei won Aug. 13 primary, LGBTQ candidates also advanced



Javier Milei (Screen capture via YouTube)

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.

LGBTQ candidates

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.

Reina Ibañez (Photo courtesy of Reina Ibañez)

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.

Esteban Paulón is one of Argentina’s most prominent LGBTQ and intersex activists. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Paulón)

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.

Santiaga D’Ambrosio says the rise of the ultra-right in Argentina is a threat to social progress. (Courtesy photo)

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.

Flavia Massenzio currently leads Argentina’s main queer organization. (Photo courtesy of Flavia Massenzio)

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