The Gay Movement in the Land of Carnival

The Gay Movement in the Land of Carnival

– Luiz Mott[1]


In order to commemorate the 500th year anniversary of the official discovery of Brazil, all social minorities and other principal segments of the our society mobilized themselves. They did so to demand their rightful place in history and also to protest the exploitation and violence to which they were subjected as a result of colonization and the inherent wounds of slavery. Indigenous peoples, Blacks and women, along with those without land, the homeless, street children, etc. all organized themselves in search of greater visibility, civil rights, and a better place in the sun during the next 500 years.

In light of these mobilizations, we look to another minority group—gays, lesbians, and transvestites—and ask: What space and visibility did they enjoy in this emblematic moment of feast and reparations? Practically none. The conspiracy of silence against the practitioners of “the love that dare not speak its name” is as strong today as it was during the times when homosexuality (sodomy) was  considered “the most vile, filthy, and treacherous sin,” punished with the same severity as capital crimes and treason.[2] With the exception of the publication of a Biographical Dictionary of Homosexuals in Bahia: 16th – 19th Century,[3] and the newspaper publication of the names of the100 most famous gays, lesbians, and transvestites (all deceased now) in Brazilian history,[4] no other work or official activity of organized groups was planned and or publicly realized with the intention of shedding light on the presence and participation of homosexuals during the five hundred years of construction of our Brazilian nation.

In spite of this official silence, historical documentation bears witness to the presence of innumerable cross-dressers and practitioners of homoerotism, who stood out in very diverse sectors of national life. These individuals were not only among the ranks of artists, intellectuals, and other members of the literati, but were also soldiers, clergymen, and landowners. Innumerable homosexuals could also be found within the multitudes of common folk, including slaves, artisans, countrymen, and above all, represented in the legions of everyday youngsters of all races and ethnicities.

My objective in this presentation is to reclaim a little bit of the history that the intelligentista and the tupiniquim (native) establishment insist on keeping in the closet. I also intend to describe the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of homophobia in Brazil, then explain how the gay movement has fought to confront these adversaries.

  1. Gay and Lesbian Brazil

“There is no sin below the equator.” (popular saying)

            Brazil enjoys the international reputation of being perhaps the most homosexual country in the world. Foreign tourists are unanimous in the proclamation of the superior beauty and self-confidence to be found among Brazilian gays, who are easily identified on streets, beaches and other public spaces. Many of the most famous Brazilian singers and artists are openly known as gay, lesbian, or bisexuals.[5] Even famous politicians, including two ex-presidents, had their homosexuality tirelessly commented upon by the media to the point of public boredom. A few years ago, the then transvestite, now transsexual woman Roberta Close was on the cover of major national magazines, publicly and unanimously proclaimed as “the model of female Brazilian beauty!” Until recently, more than 400 Brazilian transvestites were to be found in the Bois de Boulongne section of Paris, and today hundreds of these sex professionals work in Rome and Milan. So comprehensive is this “gay invasion” that the vulgar Brazilian term “veado” has since been incorporated into the Italian lexicon as a synonym for “homosexual.”

            When Brazilian gays are asked about the statistics found in the world famous Kinsey Report,[6] which numbered at 10% the population of exclusively or predominantly homosexual men in the Western world, they usually laugh at the figure, which does not come close to the more than 30% they estimate the Brazilian homoerotic population to be, based on their own experience or “personal research.” In support of these observations, anthropologists Peter Fry and Richard Parker have also called attention (although with little statistical evidence) to the generalized bisexuality to be found in Brazil.[7]

            Many historic and anthropological reasons explain this especially influential presence of homosexuality in our nation: First factor being the much proclaimed multi-raciality of Brazil, which reunites high demographic contingencies of indigenous peoples, Africans originally imported as slaves, and Portuguese colonizers, all groups in which  homosexuality and cross dressing were prominent; second, the lasciviousness and sexual abuse inherent in colonial slavery; third, the characteristic machismo, rigidity, and misogyny of the colonial system as a whole; and finally, the questionable morality and general licentiousness of the Catholic clergy. All these components combine to explain the impressive number of male and female homosexuals found in early as well as contemporary Brazilian society.[8]

            Curiously, when Portuguese colonizers first arrived in Brazil in 1500, they were scandalized to find so many indigenous Americans who practiced “the heinous sin of sodomy.” The natives of this homoerotic persuasion ORIENTATION were called tibira in their autoctonous language, however, André Thevet, the French chaplain of the invading armada sent by Catherine de Medici in 1575, named them berdache, a word of Persian origin common among the Islamic diaspora. This term went on to become the accepted nomenclature among European travelers and later, anthropologists, used to describe indigenous homosexuals and or transvestites found in various parts of the world, especially North America.[9] Many indigenous women also participated in lesbian relationships: According to the historians CRONISTAS of the time, many squaws were completely “inverted,” radically assuming masculine gender roles in their appearance, work, and leisure activities. Preferring death itself to being called women or maintaining relationships with the opposite sex, these women were called çacoaimbeguira, and their “paraíba” (butch) ways probably served as inspiration for today’s popular myth of the “Amazons” of South America.[10]

            Black Brazilians—more than 4 million imported from Africa during almost four centuries of slavery—also contributed strongly to the spread of homosexuality in the “land of parrots”: The first transvestite registered in our history was Fransisco, a black man of Mani-Congo ethnicity ETHNIC GROUP, who, even when forced to stand before the Bahian Inquisition in 1591, refused to abandon his female trappings. Francisco was a member of a “brotherhood” called quimbanda, whose membership consisted of powerful Congolese and Angolan shamans, practitioners of homoeroticism who were highly respected in their homeland.[11]

            Although homosexuality was less institutionalized in Portugal than among the various cultures and civilizations of the New World and Africa, homoeroticism, despite the terrifying presence of the Inquisition Tribunals (1536-1821), reigned almost uncontrollably throughout Lusitanian history, compromising the position of at least three sovereigns and innumerable celebrities of this small Iberian country. In Portugal, homosexuality, with much reason, was also given the nickname “the vice of clergymen” due to the proliferation of monks, canons, sacristans, and even bishops who practiced this “love that dare not speak its name.” So numerous were these homosexual holymen that a third of those condemned by the Inquisition for the sin of sodomy belonged to the ranks of church officials.[12]

If we compare Portugal and Brazil to the rest of Europe, Protestant England and Holland, and the New World during the time of the Renaissance, fantastic and abundant documentation of inquisitorial archives force us to conclude that Lisbon and the principal cities of the Portuguese empire (including overseas Bahia and Rio de Janeiro) possessed a frenetic gay “subculture,” whose members, when compared equally with what is known about other societies of the Old World, enjoyed curiously more tolerance and social acceptance than their counterparts from other nations.[13] Inquisitorial and royal legislation was draconian at best, but in practice, punishment was rare and indulgent. Nevertheless, of the four thousand individuals reported to the Holy See OFFICE for the “abominable sin of sodomy,” approximately 450 were jailed and sentenced. Among these, 30 sodomites burned at the stake during the three centuries of dominance by this dictatorship-like Monstrum Horribilem. No Brazilian homosexual was killed by the Inquisition, although they numbered in hundreds those fanchonos who were reported for practicing this “evil sin.”[14]

            With the advent of Brazilian independence from Portugal and the ratification of our first Constitution in 1823 and the Penal Code in 1830, homosexuality, under the influence of Napoleonic Code, was no longer considered a crime, and all laws restricting its practice among consenting adults ceased to exist. The stipulation that homosexuality not be practiced with those under the age of 18, however, remained in the laws and was consistently more severely scrutinized and punished than heterosexual acts under similar circumstances. Lesbianism, which was decriminalized by the Inquisition in 1646, was also, in Brazil, more discreet and less visible than male homosexuality. This phenomenon is proven by the lack of historical record of capital punishment levied against a female practitioner of sodomia faeminarum by the Lusitanian Inquisition.[15]

            Through the course of Brazilian history, diverse characters of distinction were publicly defamed and accused of practicing the “abominable and heinous NEFARIOUS sin of sodomy.” Among these men during the 17th century were two Governors of the state of Bahia, Diogo Botelho and Câmara Coutinho, both contemporaries of our most famous satirist Gregório de Matos, the author of the oldest poem known to be written in the Americas—an ode dedicated to a lesbian named Nise, “a woman who devoured other ladies.” Matos, “the mouth of hell” himself, was called DENOUNCED before the Inquisition for uttering in public one of the longest lived and most blasphemous myths in the European gay subculture present since the Middle Ages: “He declared that Jesus Christ practiced sodomy!” During the 19th century, Bahian revolutionary leader Sabino Álvares was also accused of atrocious ABOMINABLE practices around the same time when copious amounts of correspondences were exchanged between Empress Leopoldina (Habsburg) and her Lady-in-Waiting Maria Graham,[16] suggesting that the two enjoyed sapphic intimacies or at least shared an undeniably homoemotional passion so well described by Lillian Faderman in Surpassing the Love of Men. [17]

            Famous poets and literati, such as Álvares de Azevedo (1831-1852), Olavo Bilac (1893-1918), Mário de Andrade (1893-1945), and João do Rio (1881-1921) are also on the list of the “Ganimedes” cult, whose membership also includes homosexual VIPs such as the father of Aeronautics Alberto Santos Dumont (1873-1932), Brazilian inventor of not only the airplane, but also the wristwatch, men’s high heeled shoes, and the Marlene Dietrich style hat.

            In spite of the existence of these prominent figures throughout the course of our country’s history, it is only during the end of the nineteenth century that homosexuality enters the Brazilian scene in the form of literary theme: Aluízio de Azevedo describes quite realistically a lesbian scene in his 1890  O Cortiço, and in 1895, Adolfo Caminha dedicates an entire book, O Bom Crioulo, to the love shared by a white blond cabin boy and a black sailor. Both depictions were thematically unique and trailblazing in the Americas of the time, but were also indicative of present scientific investigations realized in the Rio de Janeiro and Bahia Schools of Medicine among which are especially notable O Androfilismo by Domigos firmino Pinheiro (1898) and the book O Homossexualismo: A libertinagem no Rio de Janeiro (1906) by Pires de Almeida—both works strongly influenced by homophobic theories then popular in Victorian Europe.[18]

            Finally, it should not go unmentioned that in 1930 the first and most emphatically lesbian novel in Brazil, O Terceiro Sexo (The third sex), was published by Odilon Azevedo. In this book, proletariat lesbian workers found an association intended to take over positions of power and control occupied by men, therein articulating, for the first time in Brazil, or perhaps in the whole of Latin America, an ultra-radical Lesbico-LEBIAN Feminist discourse.

  1. Homophobia in Brasil

      “Man and man make wolfman; woman and woman make crocodile.” (Popular saying)

            In spite of the high visibility enjoyed by Brazilian gays and transvestites and the significant institutional victories claimed recently by the gay movement, Brasil, the land of carnival, has distinguished itself through a very sad record: She IT is world champion in the murder of homosexuals. From 1980 to the present, more than 1,830 homosexuals have been violently killed, victims of homophobic crimes culminating in 1999 to a median of a murder every two days![19]

            Unfortunately, there are many ethno-historical reasons to explain the especially aggressive nature of homophobia among the earlier slave-based countries of Latin America Nn: Here, machismo, patriarchy, and homophobia assume characteristics which are more violent than those found in Iberian metropoli, because historically a delicate, effeminate, or homosexual man in the New World was considered the personification of treachery against the hegemony of strong masculinity as well as a dangerous threat to the maintenance of a dominant elite. Lesbianism also proved at best impractical during these colonial times—the number of white women was miniscule, and all respectable damsels were obligated to marry and produce as many male offspring as possible. As a result of these factors, intolerance toward homosexuality grew unchecked and even blessed by the powerful Catholic Church, all the while propagated by other powers that be as a virtuous and fundamental social value.

            Considerable documentation proves that since the very beginnings of our history, parents have taught their children to react violently against any attempt toward seduction by a homosexual,[20] registering, for example the cruel 17th century execution of two homosexuals in the Brazilian Northeast, men whose names the historians failed to even write down. In the town of São Luíz do Maranhão in 1613, a Tupinambá Indian, publicly recognized as Tibira, also suffered an equally heinous fate when he was, by order of French monks CAPUCHINHOS/FRANCISCANS tied to the mouth of a canon and, with the firing of the weapon, had his body ripped to pieces, in order to “purge the earth of his evils.”[21] The second homosexual martyr of thisTHE colonial period was a young black slave executed in the region of Sergipe in 1678: “whipped to death for committing the sin of sodomy.” [22] More than a dozen lesbians in Brazil, including black women and mamelucas (of white and indigenous origin), were also tried before the Inquisition. The most “incorrigible” of all, Felipa de Souza, a Portuguese tenant farmer, was lashed mercilessly in the public square of Salvador and exiled in 1593. An annual prize given by the International Gay and Lesbian HUMAN Rights Commission (San Francisco) to honor achievement in defense of human rights has since been named after Felipa, a figure now synonymous with the notion of pride in the face of unjust humiliation.[23]

            In spite of being forced to live among shadows by the criminalization of homosexual practices, gays in Brazil still persevered, even enacting, as historical documentation now reveals, some resistance to said oppression. Certain homosexuals fought against persecution through various means ranging from the relatively innocuous PRE-POLITICAL REACTIONS, SUCH  destruction of incriminating cases and proofs, to the extreme of poisoning their accusers.[24] Although the term “homophobia” is at present little known among Brazilians (being principally used in translations of U.S. films as opposed to within academia), its practice, is in no way limited to the afore mentioned colonial times. Homophobia can be found across all levels of our culture, and enjoys a sphere of influence which infiltrates everything from popular lexicon to major means of communication and social institutions.

            Brazil is, unfortunately, one of the countries where the most common way of offending a man is to call him a homosexual, or more viciously, a veado (technically meaning “deer”). On the streets, at schools, and in workplaces, when one wishes to verbally antagonize a youngster or an adult, the first insult usually hurled by Brazilians is veado. In spite of the existence of more than sixty equally pejorative synonyms for veado in our Portuguese language, and a variation of twenty terms which negatively denote female homosexuality,[25] that particular term has for some reason gained the most popularity and widespread usage. So much so that deer themselves have begun to suffer the same unconscionable cruelty levied against gays. It has been reported that in the city zoos of Salvador, Bahia and Cascavel, Paraná, some deer were stoned and bludgeoned to death by unknown visitors who transferred onto the defenseless creatures the same hatred the general population feels toward gays.[26] The number “24”, traditionally identified in the popular “animal game” as corresponding to the deer, has become so vile and undesirable in Brazil that many schools and other diverse bodies omit it entirely from attendance rolls in order to save the unlucky bearer of said numerical distinction from falling victim to the various physical and moral abuses generally reserved for gays.

            Adding to the humiliating presence of such cultural realities, countless derogatory popular sayings abound, especially in the Northeast—the most economically underdeveloped and traditionally hyper-macho region of Brazil—and aggravate this anti-homosexual bigotry. It is very common to hear mothers and fathers shamelessly proclaim: “I would rather have a son be a thief or be dead than be a veado!”, or for the opposite sex: “ I would rather my daughter be a whore than a sapatão!”. There is at least one documented case of a father in Bahia who killed his son because he was gay: Army colonel Antônio Pomponet Macedo confronted his son Augusto César Macedo, age 29, with the suspicion of his homosexuality, and on receiving a confirmation of this accusation, he shot his son in his heart at point blank range in front of the entire family.[27]

            Opinion polls confirm that, of all social minorities, homosexuals are (numerically) SUPRESS  the largest victims of prejudice—more discriminated against than Blacks, Jews, and women. [28] An IBOPE-VEJA survey of two thousand individuals revealed that 79% of those interviewed would be upset if they had a homosexual son or daughter; 56% would change their behavior around a colleague if they discovered he or she was gay; 56% did not agree that an openly homosexual candidate would ever be elected president; 47% would change their voting choice if it were revealed that their favorite candidate was gay; 45% would change to another doctor or dentist if they discovered their present one was a homosexual; and 36% would not hire a homosexual in their company even if he or she were the most qualified applicant.[29]

            Even the President of our Federal Supreme Court, Ministro Celso Mello, commented on the serious nature of the oppression faced by gays and lesbians in Brazil, declaring that: “It’s no use commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights if unjust practices which deny homosexuals their basic rights continue to exist. The Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Bodies need to take note of these cruelties and acknowledge our need to confront the conditions of grave adversities in which members of this extremely vulnerable group are forced to exist.”[30]

            Contrary to the solidarity expressed by Minister Mello, and absolutely shocking and unacceptable in the advent of a third millenium, many homophobic sentiments and opinions are still being publicly broadcasted. Take, for example, these declarations registered during the past two years:

In the University of Santa Cruz (the state of Rio Grande do Sul), pamphlets and stickers were distributed on campus all bearing the following order: “Kill a homosexual!” On one of the most popular and widely viewed televisions of the TV Record network (belonging to the Universal Church of Christ), the host, Ana Maria Braga, told what was her idea of a joke: “Do you know what is the biggest disappointment for a hunting father? Having a veado  for a son and not being able to shoot it!” Dom Eusébio Oscar Sheid, metropolitan Archbishop of Florianópolis, declared: “Homosexuality is a tragedy. Gays are only half human; if they’re people at all!” The Benedictine D. Estêvão Bittencourt, of the monastery of Rio de Janeiro, said: “Homosexuality is against the laws of God and nature. A lesbian mother should lose the right to raise her child. The government should not give custody of her child to a lesbian mother.” The Carecas de Santo André brotherhood in São Paulo distributed pamphlets on which were written orders to: “Destroy all homosexuals!” Foaming at the mouth with hatred and rage, São Paulo state deputy Afanazio Jazadi declared on television: “All homosexuals should die!” And finally, military policemen of the 16th Battalion in Salvador proclaimed: “The order at hand is to shoot down all transvestites!”[31]

            In 1999 these pearls of homophobia were recorded:

In Curitiba, at the University of Tuiuti, students spraypainted “Death to Veados” all over the classrooms. In São Paulo forensic psychiatrist Dr. Guido Palomba declared on the occasion of the death of a student victim of violent hazing that: “Those who participate in college hazing are anti-social cowards; losers with homosexual tendencies.” Protestant deputy Raul Lima (Minas Gerais) declared: “Homosexuality is an ungodly abomination, which defames and dishonors the practitioner’s own body. It is a vile perversion, and any approval of homosexuality by society will lead to our downfall and destruction!”  Around the same time I wrote this article, the Archbishop of Fortaleza declared that: “Homosexuality is a deformity, a defect of nature equal to homicidal tendencies and cleptomania.”  Surveys taken in Rio de Janeiro report that 20% of youngsters in the city do not consider it a crime to humiliate or attack transvestites and prostitutes. For 33% of these same survey participants, homosexuality is a disease or at best, social aberration.[32]

            Within this context of such virulent ideological and verbal homophobia, the practice of anti-homosexual discrimination and violence in Brazil reaches levels which surpass, in number and intensity, the singling out and physical or moral aggressions carried out against other social minorities. Although homosexuals still have much in common with these groups, what differentiates our case from other victims of social injustice is that Black, indigenous, Jewish, and even physically disabled children learn from their parents at home how to deal with outside hatred. Among almost all homosexual minors and adolescents, the opposite takes place: When they are outed at home, gay youths are humiliated, insulted, beaten, forcibly subjected to psychological treatments, and even kicked out of their house. Worst of all, as well noted by Stephen Murray,[33] the obstacles presented by family structure and the difficulties of residential independence experienced by young people in Latin America, obligate the great majority of gays, lesbians, and transvestites to live in their parents’ homes, subjected to homophobic familial pressures.

            Propagated and supported by structural and institutionalized homophobia, anti-homosexual discrimination and violence are at absolutely insufferable heights, a fact which is sadly and copiously chronicled among the archives of the Grupo Gay da Bahia and the Secretary of Human Rights of the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians, and Transvestites (ABGLT). In spite of the fact that no official statistics regarding hate crimes are kept in Brazil, we have formed a database of such attacks, relying on sources such as newspapers, crime registries, the Internet, and word of mouth. For the year 1999 we have documented the occurrence of the following violations of the human rights of homosexuals in Brazil: 37 cases of aggression and torture; 14 incidents involving threats and physical blows; 27 cases of discrimination in government bodies and institutions; 22 cases of economic discrimination against free movement, privacy, and work; 33 cases of family, school, scientific, and religious discrimination; 18 defamations and discriminations in public media; 8 incidents of anti-lesbian violence; and 56 reports of violence and discrimination against transvestites. In total, we have registered, for the year 1999 alone,  223 instances of violation of the human rights of gays, lesbians, transvestites, and transsexuals.

            Once again, I would like to restate that this data is merely a tiny sample of the greater and particularly sad reality of homosexuals in Brazil—the majority of homophobic violence and discriminations are not reported in the media nor to human rights or specifically gay-oriented groups. Proof of this upsetting fact is that during the first six months of existence (June-December, 1999)  of a hotline created to aid in the reporting and capture of perpetrators of homophobic hate crimes in Rio de Janeiro (Disque Defesa Homossexual), 158 denouncements of grave violations were made (Source: Information from the DDH/RJ)[34]. Other proof lies in the arrests of 352 transvestites in Salvador, Bahia during 1999, detentions undertaken by order of the Secretary of Public Safety, who was trained in New York City as to effectively achieve in the city of Salvador the application of “zero tolerance” policies.

            Even more disturbing than these examples is the fact that the data I have mentioned here is highly incomplete and does not even rise above the level of a miniscule sample of an even more cruel and violent reality. For this reason we have seen a little more action among state governments, as noted above with the hotline created by the Secretary of Public Security of Rio de Janeiro, to find efficient ways to prevent and record incidences of homophobic discrimination. This is an important first step toward the general implementation of public policies which defend the human rights and the exercise of full citizenship by sexual minorities. Once again, as I was writing this article, misfortune strikes our struggle and the Secretary of Human Rights, anthropologist Luís Eduardo Soares, the creator of such initiatives as the hotline, was fired from the Rio government. We now remain at watch for future developments and hope that his DDH ministry continues to function!

            Undoubtedly, murder is the most extreme and cruel form of homophobia, and as we sadly anticipated, Brazil is the world champion of homicides committed against gays, lesbians, and transvestites specifically for being just that. As was found through the research done by Grupo Gay da Bahia, between the years of 1980 and 1999, 1,830 homosexuals were killed, all victims of homophobia. Gay men represent 63% of these victims, transvestites 31%, and lesbians 6%. In light of these somewhat “misleading” figures, I would like to point out that although transvestite attacks may seem less than those of ordinary gay men, comparatively they are quite high due to the fact that the entire population of Brazilian transvestites is not even up to 10 thousand, while gay men number around 16 million.[35]

            I would also like to reassert that these murders are not merely results of robberies gone wrong or even stray bullets. They are hate crimes where the victims’ homosexuality was the principal motivator for the attack; violations in which the aggressors are driven by the bigotry and machismo so dominant in our society  that it sees and treats homosexuals as lightweight, effeminate, terror-stricken, babies, entirely incapable of fighting back or counting upon the support of others when they are wronged.[36] Inevitably such crimes are characterized by high and very physical doses of hatred: endless blows, the use of various deadly weapons, and preliminary torture.

            Three recent and unusually horrific cases deserve special notice in this discussion: On the 20th of January, 1993 Town Councilman of the Municipality of Coqueiro Seco, Alagoas state, Renildo José dos Santos, age 26, came out as homosexual in a Rádio Gazeta de Maceió interview. Later accused by his fellow council members of violating tenets of parliamentary decorum, dos Santos was suspended for an indefinite amount of time, thus preventing his further participation in Town Council activities. As a result of these and other offenses, dos Santos felt that his life was being threatened by his political enemies and sent an official request for protection to the Secretary of Public Safety in Alagoas. Unfortunately for dos Santos, the dawn of March 10, 1993 brought unimaginable new heights to Northeast Brazilian homophobia,  and Renildo was dragged out of his home and kidnapped by four policemen and political enemies—the very ones against whom he asked for protection from the state authorities. Taken to an abandoned place free from outside interference, the Councilman fell victim to one of the cruelest torture sessions ever recorded the annals of human violence: His ears, nose, and tongue were severed from his face; his nails pulled off one by one, and then each finger and toe cut; his legs were broken; he was castrated; sodomized; shot in both eyes and ears; and finally, in order to make impossible an identification of the mutilated body , Renildo’s attackers set fire to his corpse, decapitated the chars, and threw whatever remained in a river.[37]

            The second episode selected for this abominable dossier of violence and hatred occurred in a Manhattan hotel in New York City March, 1999. Antique dealer João Sabóia, age 56, resident of Belém do Pará, was beaten and decapitated by male prostitute Márcio Fonseca Scherer, age 28, who after killing Sabóia, robbed him of thousands of dollars. The story up to this point could be merely attributed to common thievery and greed, but what happened with apathetic Brazilian officials after the fact solidified it as indeed a homophobic injustice. Forced to admit to the crime because he was caught on security cameras when leaving the room, Fonseca was deported to face justice Malgrado ter sido filmado quando fugia do hotel e  assumir a autoria do crime, foi solto pela justiça do Rio do Janeiro, in his native Rio de Janeiro. There, he was set free by Rio officials, prompting the New York Police Department, to file protests with the U.S. Embassy in Rio and the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations “against incomprehensible bureaucratic red tape which knowingly impeded the presentation and processing of evidence, that undoubtedly would have convicted the suspect. As a result of all the waiting and shifting, a murderer went free.”[38] The campaigns mounted by the Secretary of Human Rights of the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians, and Transvestites, along with the Ministry of Justice and National Secretary of Human Rights have still not resulted in any prosecutions.

            The third episode of absolutely inhuman homophobia occurred on the 6th of last February in São Paulo when two gay men were brutally attacked in a central square by 30 skinheads, better know as the “Carecas do ABC.” This unfathomable and twisted violation caused death by crushed cranium and other generalized lesions in Edson Neris da Silva, age 35, all because he and his companion were walking holding hands. [39]

            As disgustingly shocking as all the accounts and descriptions in this section may be, the saddest fact is that they do not represent the majority of equally heinous attacks and discriminations which go unreported every day. Less than ten percent of crimes against homosexuals make it to the courts, and due to the homophobia of our judges, perpetrators of murder and violence are sentenced lightly, justified officially by the feeble excuse that they killed “in legitimate defense of their honor.”[40]

  1. The Gay Movement and Human Rights

            It was only during the mid 1970s that Latin American and Brazilian gays began to organize themselves as groups of political influence. In 1978 the principal gay journal of our history , O Lampião,[41] is founded, and it served to indirectly motivate the birth of the Brazilian Homosexual Movement (MHB), through the founding of the “Grupo Somos” in São Paulo.[42] In 1980, the First Conference of Brazilian Homosexuals was held and attended by the then more than 20 organized groups. During this same year Luiz Mott founded the Grupo Gay da Bahia, which as a result of twenty years of social militancy, has become the main ONG (Non-Governmental Organization) of resistance and reference for homosexuals in Brazil.

            With the 1981 surge of the AIDS epidemic in Brazil, which placed our country, at third place (right after the United States and Uganda) among the ranks of places most affected by this plague, many gay militants formed coalitions or all together joined AIDS NGOs, cutting down greatly, after only a few years of existence, the number of gay groups.  At the beginning of the 1990s, the MHB got a second wind with the formation of the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians, and Transvestites (ABGLT), an umbrella coalition which brings together more than 70 different gay organizations from the state of Amazonas down to Rio Grande do Sul, including 4 specifically lesbian groups, 5 transvestite associations, and one organization for transsexuals.

            These groups all have in common more or less this same profile and objectives: They are composed of one or two dozen homosexual youngsters from the lower and middle classes and hold weekly gatherings to discuss problems and concrete cases of homophobia. They then pool resources in order to organize local and statewide mechanisms for the defense of gays, transvestites, and lesbians. These groups are relatively small, often without their own gathering spaces, and they continually face enormous material difficulties, as they are obligated to function without government support and are constantly under attack by homophobic institutions such as the Catholic church, various protestant denominations, and the police. The generalized alienation faced by Brazilian homosexuals and the fact that 95% of gays and lesbians are not out of the closet, have impeded greatly the rise (even in major urban center) of an influential community, or a viable market of specifically gay consumers. This is why gays in Brazil have not yet begun to constitute a significant force of political pressure within our society. The only public official who is openly and unequivocally out in Brazil is transvestite Kátia Tapeti, Councilwoman in the miniscule Colônia do Piauí Municipality and member of the conservative (PFL) party—proof, if anything, that personal charisma can be stronger than homophobia even in the venomously macho northeastern backlands.

            In its two decades of existence the MHB, in spite of being small, underfunded, without great institutional infrastructure, and victim of grave moments of retraction, won some very important victories: In 1983, after a serious judicial battle, the Grupo Gay da Bahia obtained official recognition as “civil society defender of the rights of homosexuals,” making way for dozens of other similar entities to receive similar registry. In 1985, after obtaining more than sixteen thousand signatures, including those of artistic, political, and academic celebrities (among them, the then president of Brazil and his anthropologist wife), we forced the Federal Counsel of Medicine to accept our petition and erase the official classification of homosexuality  as “sexual deviance” from state medical publications CLASSIFICATION. This was an especially significant victory for ideological progress in light of the fact that this same action was taken by the World Organization of Health ten years later.

            In 1988, we unfortunately did not manage to have included in the new constitutional text the express prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation, but in 1990, that battle was won in Salvador and 73 other cities all over the country, and in the state constitutions of Mato Grosso, Sergipe, and Brasília. For the first time in Latin America, the crime is no longer being homosexual, but discriminating against gays and lesbians, a reality affirmed by the fact that as of 1995, in seven Brazilian cities, municipal laws were passed to punish and fine those who perpetrate crimes of sexual discrimination, although it is only fair to note that there have not been concrete cases of the enforcement of said laws. In 1996, for the first time in our country’s history, a federal document, The National Plan for Human Rights, recognized the existence of a homosexual population in Brazil and cited gays, lesbians, and transvestites among the minority groups which are most vulnerable toward discrimination. Unfortunately, the government has not proposed concrete measures meant to eradicate homophobia from our land, an omission not present in its treatment of other social minorities. But all the news is not bad: As of 1997, thanks to the public pressure levied by the gay movement, Representative Marta Suplicy introduced a bill to the National Congress in favor of the legal recognition of same sex partnerships. She is also lobbying for a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.


            In order to bring to a close this small vol d’oiseau chronicling the homosexual presence during the five centuries of our Brazil, I reaffirm my strong hope, even in the face of a frightful rise of violence and murder committed against homosexuals, that it will not take another five hundred years for the diverse colors of our human rainbow to also unite here below the Equator. What is now necessary in order to achieve this goal is a formulation of various mechanisms which will work to stimulate gays and lesbians into action, demanding civil rights and full citizenship in the same way that Blacks, indigenous peoples, women, those with HIV/AIDS, etc. have done.

To the end of accelerating the eradication of homophobia in Brazil, I propose four modes of action urgently in need of comprehensive implementation:

  1. sexual education in all levels of schooling, which would teach young people to respect the diversity and citizenship of sexual minorities, as well as the fact that the free exercise of one’s sexual orientation is an inalienable human right, which should be protected by the family, school, and other social institutions;

  1. greater involvement on the part of universities and Brazilian scientific associations in the promotion and stimulation of research, debates, prizes, and publications related to homosexuality and the human rights of gays, lesbians and transvestites—efforts they already show in support of other social minorities;

  1. the passing of laws that penalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and punish openly those who attack and murder homosexuals on the level that one would prosecute those who commit crimes of racism;

  1. finally, I would suggest the development of conscious-raising campaigns among homosexuals themselves in order to teach them how to react when threatened or attacked and also how to formally lodge complaints when they are subjected to bigotry and discrimination, thus stimulating the political organization of different sexual minorities through affirmative, as opposed to reactionary, policies.

Transvestites, lesbians, transsexuals, and gays in Brazil do not want special privileges. We only desire the same citizenship, respect for our differences, and the right to life and love. Academics, such as are those of you gathered here, have always been for us great sympathizers, and have a crucial part in this process. I ask you to not only recognize this important role, but promote it and be even more sympathetic to our struggle!

[1] Luiz Mott is Professor  of Anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil and President of the “Grupo Gay da Bahia.”

This paper was presented at the Dartmouth College conference titled BRAZIL 500 YEARS, April 14-15, 2000. My many thanks to CNPq for the research grant that has permitted me to work in this area. I also thank Rodolfo A. Franconi, Associate Professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department of Dartmouth College for inviting me to participate in this conference and Brown University Graduate Fellow Obianuju C. Anya for translating this paper into English.

[2] Aguiar, Asdrúbal. A Evolução da pederastia e do lesbismo na Europa. From the Archives of the University of Lisbon, vol. XI, 1926.

[3] Mott, Luiz. Homossexuais da Bahia. Dicionário Biográfico: Século XVI-XIX. Savador: Editora Grupo Gay da Bahia, 1999.

[4] A Tarde,  (newspaper) “Lista de Gays Históricos será divulgada” (List of Historic Gays will be released), March 18, 2000.

[5] Mott, Luiz. O Lesbianismo no Brasil. (Lesbianism in Brazil) Porto Alegre: Editora Mercado Aberto, 1987.

[6] Kinsey, A.C. et al. Sexual Behavior in Human Males. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1948.

[7] Fry, Peter. Para Inglês Ver. (For the English to See). Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores, 1982.

Parker, Richard. Corpos, Prazeres e Paixões: A cultura sexual do Brazil Contemporâneo. (Bodies, Pleasures, and Passions: The sexual culture of modern Brazil.) São Paulo: Editora Best Seller, 1991.

[8] Mott, Luiz. O Sexo Proibido: Virgens, Gays e Escrabos nas garras da Inquisição. (Forbidden Sex: Virgins, gays, and slaves trapped in the claws of the Inquisition.) Campinas: Editora Papirus, 1989.

Mott, Luiz “A sexualidade no Brasil Colonia” (Sexuality in Colonial Brazil), D.O. Leitura, Vol. 141, Nº 12, Feb., 1994, pp 6-8.

[9] Thevet, André. Singularidades da França Antártica a que Outros Chamam América. (Singularities of the French Antarctic, which is commonly known as America.) São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1944.

[10] Mott, Luiz. “As Amazonas: um mito e algumas hipóteses” (Amazons: a myth and some hypotheses). Vaifas, R. ed. América em Tempo de Conquista. Rio de Janiero: Zahar Editores, 1992.

[11] Mott: “Slave and Homosexuality” San Francisco Quarterly, Nº24, 1985, pp. 10-25.

[12] Mott: “Pagode português: a subcultura gay em Portual nos tempos inquisitoriais” (Portuguese Party: the gay subculture of Portugal during Inquisitorial times.) Ciencias Culturais, Vol. 40, Feb., 1980, pp. 120-39.

[13] Higgs, David. Queer Sites: Gay urban histories since 1600. London: Routledge, 1999.

[14] Mott, Luiz. “Justitia et Miseriordia: A Inquisição Portuguesa e a repressão ao abominável pecado de sodomia.” (Justice and Mercy: The Portuguese Inquisition and the repression of the abominable sin of sodomy) Novinsky, A. &Tucci, M.L., eds. Inquisição: Ensaios sobre mentalidade, heresias e arte. São Paulo: EDUSP, 1992.

Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian Era to the fourteenth century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

[15] “A Discriminalização do lesbianismo em Portugal, 1646” (The Decriminalization of Lesbianism in Portugal 1646). Paper presented at the International Conference on Lesbian and Gay History, Toronto, Canada, June, 1985.

[16] Mott, Luiz. “Leopoldina von Brasilien”, Lambda Nachrichten, Vienna, Nº2, April/June, 1997.

[17] Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. Women’s Press, 1985.

[18] “A Homossexualidade no Brasil: Bibliografia” (Homosexuality in Brazil: A Bibliography) Latin American Masses and Minorities. Madison, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.

[19] In the United States, with a population of 250 million inhabitants, between the years 1992 and 1994, 151 homosexuals were killed (expressly for homophobic reasons). Brazil, on the other hand, with a population of 150 million, saw more than 180 gays and lesbians murdered in the same time span, a number which should be considered even higher, given the weak and precarious nature of our criminal statistics. New York Times, December, 12, 1994, “Survey Details Slayings around the USA.”

[20] National Archive of the Tower of Tombo, (Lisbon, Portugal), Inquisition of Lisbon, Notebook of Atrocities, Nº 4230, and Nº 4769, 1655-1692.

[21] Mott, Luiz. A Inquisição no Maranhão. São Luíz: Editora da Universidade Federal do Maranhão, 1994.

[22] National Archive of the Tower of Tombo, (Lisbon, Portugal), Inquisition of Lisbon, Notebook of Atrocities Nº 14.

Mott, Luiz A Inquisição em Sergipe. Aracajú: Fundesc, 1998.

[23] Bellini, Lígia, A Coisa Obscura: Mulher, sodomia e Inquisição. São Paulo:Editora Brasiliense, 1989.

[24] Mott, Luiz. Homossexuais da Bahia: Dicionário biográfico. Op. Cit. p. 29.

[25] Souto Maior, M. Dicionário do Palavrão e Termos Afins. (Dictionary of dirty words and other related coloquialisms) Recife: Editora Guararapes, 1980.

[26] A Tarde, (newspaper) April 23, 1992, “Selvageria no Zoológico.” (Savagery in the Zoo)

[27] A Tarde, November 7, 1987. “Coronel que matou o filho  se apresenta a polícia.” (Colonel who killed his son turns himself into the police.)

[28] Folha de São Paulo (newspaper), March 3, 1993. “Homosexuals, as maiores vítimas de preconceito.” (Homosexuals, the most victims of prejudice.)

[29] Veja (national magazine), May 10, 1993. “Brasileiros não aceitam médicos nem político gay.” (Brazilians would not accept gay doctors or politicians).

[30] O Estado de São Paulo (newspaper), December 12, 1998.

[31] Boletim do Grupo Gay da Bahia, Nº 38, year XIX, 1999.

[32] Boletim do Grupo Gay da Bahia, Nº 40, year XX, 2000.

[33] Murray, S. “The Family as Obstacle to the Growth of a Gay Subculture in Mesoamerica.” Male Homosexuality in Central and South America. Gai Saber Monograph, Nº 5, Obregon Institute, San Francisco, 1987.

[34] Divisão de Direitos Humanos / Rio de Janeiro (Human Rights Ministry of sorts)

[35] Mott, Luiz & Cerqueira, Marcelo. As Travestis da Bahia e a Aids. Salvador: Editora Grupo Gay da Bahia, 1997.

[36] Mott, Luiz. “O crime homofóbico: viado tem mais é que morrer!” (Homophobic crime: fags have to die!), Crime, Direito e Sociedade. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto de Criminologia, 1997.

[37] “Cabeça cortada” Veja, March 24, 1994; “Prefeito acusado de matar Vereador Renildo José dos Santos é absolvido,” (Mayor accused of killing Councilman Renildo José dos Santos is acquitted), O Globo, May 5, 1994; “Breaking the Silence”, Amnesty International Report, Washington D.C., 1994.

[38] O Estado de São Paulo (newspaper), February 2, 2000.

[39] O Estado de São Paulo, February 7, 2000.

[40] Mott, Luiz. Epidemic of Hate: Violation of Human Rights of Gay Men, Lesbians and Transvestites in Brazil. San Francisco: IGLRHC, 1996.

[41] Brayner, Aquiles R.A. Lampião: um bandido social? Analise discursiva da revista Lampião da Esquina. (Lampião: A social bandit? Discursive analysis of the journal Lampião da Esquina). Doctorandus Thesis, University of Leiden, Holland, 1998.

[42] MacRae, Edward. A Construção da Igualdade: Identidade sexual e política no Brasil da Abertura. (The Construction of Equality: Sexual identity and politics in turn of the century Brazil.) Campinas, SP: Editora da Unicamp, 1990.