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Intersecting inequalities in Brazil hinder LGBT rights

Brazil
Sexual Politics
Intersecting inequalities in Brazil hinder LGBT rights
Photo by Midia Ninja

Last month, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets for pride parades throughout this South American country, some attracting up to three million attendants. According to surveys carried out during the parade in São Paulo, 87.5 per cent of respondents defend teaching respect for LGBT people in school and 79 per cent are in favour of tougher laws to fight homophobia. But how do such measures play out in Brazil, where intersecting inequalities mean that so many LGBT persons are subject to multiple violations, related to their class, gender or race?

The country is in political crisis. Its weakened democratic institutions pose increasing challenges for LGBT peoples’ rights and those in civil society concerned with tackling such inequalities. Protecting LGBT rights and ensuring a life free from violence is only possible if we develop a full regard for how experiences of discrimination and inequality accumulate. This is the motivation that drove Christian Aid in Brazil to support the study ‘Violence and Inequality: A Focus on Gender, Sexuality and Race in Brazil’. The study, produced by the SempreViva Feminist Organization, the Comissão Pró-Índio and the Movement of People affected by Dams, provides a snapshot of how violence intersects with other inequalities – including gender, sexuality and race – to create additional experiences of discrimination and to exacerbate inequality for specific sectors of the population.

Specific data on this community is limited so the interviews provided useful insight but also confirmed initial fears: stigma and violence are routine, and they keep LGBT people away from better work and study opportunities, especially for trans persons and LGBT people of colour. Of the respondents, 32.5 per cent said they had experienced physical violence, while 42.5 per cent said they had been forced to perform sex acts, or had their bodies touched without consent. A majority (82.7 per cent) said they had experienced some form of psychological violence due to their sexuality.

Although public spaces seem to be the most dangerous areas for LGBT people with unidentified aggressors, a third of cases analysed also mentioned domestic environments. Despite the considerable number of cases of violence only 7.3 per cent of those reviewed had formal charges pressed and 77 per cent had not even reported the incident showing that in most cases, the attacker goes unpunished for the crime.

Responses showed that violence and discrimination starts at an early age so education and awareness-raising at school and community levels were recommended by the researchers. Christian Aid is working with faith-based organisations in Brazil to promote open dialogue and challenge social norms. For example, the Anglican Service of Diaconia and Development has engaged dioceses all over the country to work on the theological reflection about sexual diversity and engaging faith communities to advocate for LGBT rights.

The shrinking democratic space in Brazil, increasing inequality and conservatism and threats to LGBT rights are all intertwined. Changes to the labour and social security reforms being proposed by the current government will have a heavier toll on the community, already faced with obstacles in their access to the work market. Because LGBT people normally access formal jobs later in life and discrimination means that they occupy the most precarious and low paid positions, changes aimed at increasing social security contribution time and putting weight on individual negotiations (rather than through trade unions) over labour laws will probably mean that LGBT people will have to retire later and be even more prone to unemployment. This is particularly true for trans persons and LGBT persons of indigenous or black African heritage.

Intersecting inequalities in Brazil hinder LGBT rights
Photo by MST Communication Group in Bahia

Another area of concern is LGBT rights within rural settings, where poverty and a somewhat conservative culture can often result in further discrimination. According to the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement, who have been working with Christian Aid to strengthen visibility of problems that LGBT people face, challenges in these conservative settings are around basic problems such as ‘self-recognition and identifying proper spaces for sociability, and fighting the sense of loneliness that is imposed’. The situation is aggravated by the advance of agribusiness and its disruptive impact on farmers and especially youth.

Whatever little policy advances that were achieved for LGBT people over the last decade are now under serious threat. The impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff, the dismantling of government structures to deal with LGBT rights problems and the drastic cuts to the LGBT policy budget earlier this year mean that the progression of LGBT rights has not only stopped but is moving backwards.

To overcome this scenario, civil society, faith-based organizations and NGOs need to work together to expose the scandal of inequality and push for LGBT rights to be put firmly back on the agenda. More research and widespread advocacy are the first steps toward ensuring LGBT people a fulfilling life free of violence.

Rosana Miranda is Programme Officer at Christian Aid in Brazil.