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Brazil LGBTQ+ activists, HIV/AIDS service providers fear Bolsonaro reelection

Presidential election to take place in October

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

(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.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil Medical Program Director Fernanda Fonseca. (Photo courtesy of Fernanda Fonseca)

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.

Free condoms at a São Paulo subway station on May 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Antiretroviral drugs at AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s clinic in Bogotá, Colombia, the Brazilian Ministry of Health has donated. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.

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

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.

A samba troupe performs in the Pelourinho neighborhood of Salvador, Brazil, on March 15, 2022. A report that two Brazilian advocacy groups released earlier this month notes Salvador is the most violent Brazilian state capital for LGBTQ+ people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.”

Mariah Rafaela Silva, right, and Isaac Porto in Rio de Janeiro on March 21, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.”

Rio de Janeiro (State) Legislative Assemblywoman Renata Souza, right, meets with Justin Hansford, the executive director of Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, in D.C. in March 2021. (Photo courtesy of Serra Sippel)

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.

Pride flags fly over Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro on March 20, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.”

An anti-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro t-shirt for sale in a market in Rio de Janeiro, on March 19, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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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South America

Upwards of 4 million people attend São Paulo Pride

First round of Brazilian presidential election to take place Oct. 2

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Upwards of 4 million people participated in the São Paulo Pride parade in Brazil on June 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Renato Viterbo)

SÃO PAULO — Upwards of four million people attended São Paulo’s annual Pride parade on Sunday.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil, Aliança Nacional LGBTI (National LGBTI Alliance) and Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) are among the myriad groups that participated.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by ANTRA (@antra.oficial)

Openly gay Brazilian Sen. Fabiano Contarato is among the elected officials who marched.

The theme of this year’s parade was “Vote with Pride.” 

The first round of Brazil’s presidential election will take place on Oct. 2.

Polls indicate President Jair 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 month failed to infiltrate it.

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais President Keila Simpson and other activists with whom the Washington Blade spoke while in Brazil in March sharply criticized Bolsonaro over his rhetoric against LGBTQ+ and intersex Brazilians. 

A São Paulo HIV/AIDS service provider said Bolsonaro feels “AIDS is connected to faggots.” Other sources noted Bolsonaro has also suggested the COVID-19 vaccine causes AIDS.

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South America

Former Bogotá mayor elected first leftist Colombia president

LGBTQ+ and intersex activists welcomed Gustavo Petro’s election

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Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro votes in the second round of Colombia’s presidential election on June 19, 2022. (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/AFP)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on Sunday won the second round of Colombia’s presidential election.

Petro — a member of the Colombian Senate who was once a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement that disbanded in the 1990s — defeated former Bucaramanga Mayor Rodolfo Hernández by a 50.5-47.3 percent margin.

The former Bogotá mayor will be Colombia’s first leftist president when he takes office in August. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, will be Colombia’s first female vice president of African descent.

“This is for our grandmothers and grandfathers, women, young people, LGTBIQ+ people, indigenous people, peasants, workers, victims, my Black community, those who resisted and those who are no longer with us … for all of Colombia,” tweeted Márquez after she and Petro won. “Today we are beginning to write a new history!”

Petro and Hernández faced off after they didn’t win at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the Colombian presidential election that took place on May 29.

Petro faced criticism ahead of the election because of his previous M-19 membership and fears his government will seek closer ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government, among other things. 

One source in Bogotá on Sunday noted to the Los Angeles Blade that Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender and sexual orientation identities without barriers for all non-binary and Transgender people in Colombia.” Tatiana Piñeros, a Transgender woman who ran Bogotá’s social welfare and tourism office during Petro’s mayoralty that ended in 2015, welcomed the election results.

“I am very excited,” Piñeros told the Blade.

Wilson Castañeda is the director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group in northern Colombia.

Castañeda on Sunday said Petro and Márquez showed the “greatest commitment to the agenda of LGBT rights” out of the six campaigns in the election. Castañeda noted the campaign held “various meetings” with LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups and pointed to the policies he implemented when he was Bogotá’s mayor.

“For the LGBT movement in Colombia, the triumph of the ‘Pacto Histórico’ campaign led by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez is very significant,” said Castañeda.

Angélica Lozano, a bisexual woman who became the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to the Colombian Senate in 2018, and Mauricio Toro, the first out gay man elected to the country’s Congress, both praised Petro and Márquez.

“We will begin to write with all illusion a new page in the history of Colombia,” said Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who is married to Lozano, in a tweet.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Honduran President Xiomara Castro and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken are among the world leaders who also congratulated Petro and Márquez.

“On behalf of the United States, I congratulate the people of Colombia for making their voices heard in a free and fair presidential election,” said Blinken in a statement. “We commend the many officials, public servants, and volunteers whose dedication made these elections possible.

“The United States and Colombia enjoy deep bonds between our peoples, shared values and shared interests in democracy, security, inclusive economic prosperity and human rights,” added Blinken. “Cooperation between the United States and Colombia has improved public health, livelihoods, rule of law and environmental protections in both our countries and throughout the region. We look forward to working with President-elect Petro to further strengthen the U.S.-Colombia relationship and move our nations toward a better future.”

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South America

Peru continues to lag behind other Latin American countries on LGBTQ+ rights

Attempts to ‘heal homosexuality’ remain legally protected

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LIMA, Peru — Peru is one of the few Latin American countries without pro-LGBTQ+ laws, and this evident backwardness in comparison to neighboring countries translates into a lower quality of life for those who do not identify as heterosexual.

LGBTQ+ Peruvians are highly vulnerable because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and they also lack a regulatory framework that recognizes and protects them. This reality makes it more difficult for them to fight for equal rights in the areas of health, education and work, among others.

So-called conversion therapy is still allowed in Peru, and attempts to “heal homosexuality” remain legally protected.

The Peruvian Ministry of Justice at the end of 2020 requested for the first time a survey that focused on the LGBTQ+ community. It revealed 71 percent of Peruvians considers LGBTQ+ people are the most discriminated group in the country.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2020 held the Peruvian state responsible for the rape and torture of Azul Rojas Marin, a Transgender woman, and ordered it to provide medical, psychological and/or psychiatric treatment and to prosecute the officers who tortured her. The ruling also called on Peru to track anti-LGBTQ+ violence in the country and develop a national strategy to respond to it.

None of this has been complied with so far, demonstrating the state’s indifference to LGBTQ+ rights. 

“LGBTI people are succinctly recognized in some regional or municipal ordinances at the local level, however, they have no recognition in any national legislation explicitly, which addresses their needs,” George Hale, institutional development director of Promsex, a Peruvian LGBTQ+ rights group, told the Washington Blade.

Jorge Apolaya, who has been organizing Pride marches in Peru for years, said that “discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the country is associated with a heterosexist culture that continues to permeate the different spheres of society, not only in public services that should be available to all people regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression or identity, but also in families whose structures continue to violate non-heterosexual people.”

Peruvian lawmakers recently passed a bill that eliminates the possibility of having comprehensive sexual education with a gender focus in schools, handing that power to parents. The country is one of the few in South America that allows it.

Most of the activists in Peru with whom the Blade spoke agree that previous governments have made no progress on LGBTQ+ rights, and that scenario will not improve because President Pedro Castillo, who took office last year, has publicly stated LGBTQ+ rights are not a priority for his administration.

Then-Congressman Carlos Bruce in 2014 came out as gay in an interview with a Peruvian newspaper. Alberto de Belaunde in 2016 became the first openly gay man elected to the Peruvian Congress. 

Former Peruvian Congressman Alberto de Belaunde. (Photo courtesy of Alberto de Belaunde)

De Belaunde tried to pass various bills that his colleagues did not support. He did, however, manage to start a public debate about the lives of LGBTQ+ Peruvians and responded to hate speech.

De Belaunde told the Blade that “Peru is a country with a serious problem of inequality, where not all its citizens have the same rights. The LGBTQ+ community faces a serious problem of exclusion as they do not see basic rights recognized and respected, such as the right to identity or the right to equality, and this impacts their quality of life.”

He also said the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people after former President Martín Vizcarra at one point implemented a “pico y género” rule that allowed people to leave their homes based on their gender. This regulation generated a wave of violence — mainly against Trans women — in Peru.

De Belaunde did not run for re-election last year, but two LGBTQ+ politicians entered Congress.

​​Susel Paredes from the center-left Purple Party became the first openly lesbian congressman in Peru. She also received the most votes of any woman who ran for Congress.

Peruvian Congresswoman Susel Paredes. (Photo courtesy of Susel Paredes)

Alejando Cavero of the right-wing Avanza País party became the second openly gay man elected to Congress.

Paredes explained to the Blade from her office in Lima, the Peruvian capital, that she is currently working to pass a marriage equality bill and another that would protect people based on their gender identity. Paredes said civil unions are unacceptable “because we are looking for full equality, not special laws for us.”

Cavero, on the other hand, has announced he will soon introduce a civil unions bill.  

He is also considering the elimination of the word marriage, leaving it exclusively for the religious sphere. Paredes and some Peruvian LGBTQ+ activists do not support this strategy.

Paredes, however, acknowledged her expectations regarding the approval of equal marriage in this Congress have no possibilities. She therefore said she will support Cavero’s civil unions bill.

“The possibilities that equal marriage will be approved are very limited and scarce due to the composition of the and scarce due to the composition of the Congress,” emphasized Paredes. “It is a Congress that has some left-wing conservatives and some right-wing conservatives. And the Peruvian right wing is absolutely conservative, there is no modern liberal right wing.”

“I believe that the civil union bill will be approved. But for that, we have to keep pushing for equal marriage. That way, the civil union bill will be approved faster and at last LGBTQ+ families will be able to have an institutionality,” she stressed.

Paredes is currently seeking legal recognition of her 2016 marriage in the U.S.

She said she will bring her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if Peru’s Constitutional Court rules against her.

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