LGBTI+ Rights in Brazil: Impressions After the Visit of Roberta Clarke, IACHR Rapporteur
Brazil, October 9th, 2023 – In a promotional visit to Brazil facilitated by the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), Roberta Clarke, Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI People of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), had the opportunity to dialogue with civil society organizations and LGBTI+ activists from Brasília, Fortaleza, and Rio de Janeiro. During the visit, which took place from September 18th to 22nd, the IACHR Rapporteur was able to closely monitor the reality of the Brazilian LGBTI+ population, which, between advances and setbacks, remains united as a social movement and in the struggle for the preservation of the rights achieved thus far.
The trajectory of Roberta Clarke’s visit beyond the Rio-São Paulo axis was a strategy adopted by Race and Equality after several hearings with civil society, which constantly demanded attention to the different realities of the LGBTI+ population in other parts of the country. Thus, together with the support of the Ministry of Human Rights, through the National Secretary for the Rights of LGBTQIA+ People, Symmy Larrat, the city of Brasília was crucial for meetings with ministerial offices and meetings with the LGBTI+ movement in the Federal District. It is worth mentioning that the state of Ceará, with one of the highest rates of murders of LGBTI+ people, especially trans people, according to the dossier released by the National Association of Travestis and Transgenders (ANTRA), was also part of the script for active listening with activists from the northeast region, and for having the ‘Sister Imelda Lima Pontes Prison Unit’, aimed exclusively at the LGBTI+ prison population.
Acknowledging that it is still too early to draw opinions and conclusions on the LGBTI+ Rapporteur’s visit to the country, Race and Equality brings to its audience an overview of the impressions shared by Roberta Clarke after talking to more than 15 organizations of the LGBTI+ movement in the visited cities. The Rapporteur’s impressions about the LGBTI+ population in the country were also reported during the public event held in Rio de Janeiro; “Building Bridges: LGBTI+ People’s Rights in an Intersectional Perspective”, hosted by Race and Equality.
During the week in which the Commissioner was in Brazil, two issues concerning LGBTI+ rights – which have already been achieved – were under discussion at the national level. One of them refers to equal civil marriage, which, due to the advance of extreme right-wing politicians in the Brazilian Congress, has once again been questioned as to its validity. Since 2011 and 2013, the Supreme Court (STF) and the National Council of Justice (CNJ) have equalized same-sex civil unions with heterosexual civil unions; however, Bill No. 5,167/2009 aims to annul this right. Although it has been postponed twice due to pressure from LGBTI+ deputies, and the vote remains suspended, it may return to the agenda in Congress. The other agenda that was under discussion refers to a manipulation also orchestrated by the growing anti-trans ideology that created a movement to attack the use of unisex bathrooms. The fomentation of intolerance on the part of conservative political actors has created a false idea that this was an urgent agenda item to be voted on.
These facts, for the Commissioner, reflected another Brazilian reality, since among the countries in the region, Brazil stands out among those that have made the most progress on LGBTI+ rights. In this regard, Roberta Clarke expressed concern about what is happening in the country and, particularly, about the issue of gender-based political violence, a topic that has been repeatedly denounced before the IACHR. For her, the spread of hate speech and the growth of the anti-trans movement has led to the need for reflection and the need to work together between social movements and LGBTI+ leaders. That is, to organize strategically to understand when it is worth expending efforts to the attacks of conservatives who aim only to spread fake news to dismantle civil society and interrupt the progress of the LGBTI+ political agenda.
In the face of these setbacks, the Commissioner demonstrated her solidarity and highlighted that the opportunity of having experienced different perspectives from across the country made her understand, in an intersectional way, the various types of violence that differentially affect the LGBTI+ community. While acknowledging the progress achieved through the historic struggle for visibility and rights, listening carefully to activists revealed that there is still much to be done. The country’s current situation has shown that there is strong pressure from the far right to destroy the progress made through gender equality policies and the recognition of LGBTI+ rights, and how through the spread of hate speech, trans people feel increasingly threatened and forced to live without access to basic rights.
Thus, Roberta affirmed the IACHR’s commitment to pay close attention to what happens in the country in the coming months, given that Brazil is a country of continental dimension and what happens in its territory has political influence on the entire region.
In her dialogue with the LGBTI+ social movement, the Rapporteur expressed concern about the difficulties reported in the documentation required for the process of civil rectification of name and gender; the various forms of violence against lesbian women; and the gap in the provision of public policies that meet their specificities, from the lack of data collection to the absence of health policies. In addition, lesbian women strongly emphasized the social exclusion they experience when they show affection in public, corrective rape practices, and conversion therapies, in addition to being expelled from their homes when they openly embrace their sexual orientation.
From the conversation with transmasculine people, the Commissioner was able to perceive how the violence they face is crossed mainly by issues of race, class, and territory, especially with regard to police violence. In Ceará, the theme of education was a major motto among LGBTI+ activists, highlighting the need for school inclusion policies since many LGBTI+ students abandon their educational institutions, either due to LGBTIphobia, bullying, disrespect for gender identity, among other forms of discrimination, and some do not even complete elementary school. In this context, on September 19th, the National Council for the Rights of the LGBTQIA+ Population published a resolution establishing guidelines to ensure inclusion and respect for gender identity in educational institutions.
In Brasilia, in addition to meetings with ministerial offices, Roberta Clarke met with the board of directors of the National LGBTQIA+ Council and had the opportunity to learn about the current demands of the LGBTI+ political agenda, in view of the democratic resumption in the country. The meeting with activists from the region took place in the Drag District with a round table that discussed topics such as the need for social assistance policies for the LGBTI+ population, such as the promotion of shelters and access to healthcare for the trans population.
During her visit to Rio de Janeiro, the Commissioner received a report from the Brazilian Lesbian Articulation (ABL) about lesbian women in the country; and received the ‘Dossier on Lesbocide’, after talking to one of the authors. In addition, she was given the dossiers on murder and violence against Brazilian travestis and transgender people in 2022; and the ‘Trans Brasil’ dossier, on their situation in the prison system, both documents being produced by ANTRA.
Finally, Race and Equality is deeply grateful to the Brazilian LGBTI+ movement that mobilized activists from different regions of the country so that they could convey to the IACHR Rapporteur their life experiences and their trajectories of struggles for rights in a country where being and existing as an LGBTI+ person is an act of courage. We also thank the IACHR for accepting our invitation and engaging in dialogue with the Brazilian LGBTI+ civil society movement. In view of our mission, encouraging visits by rapporteurs and experts from international mechanisms is another step in ensuring visibility, non-discrimination, and the full realization of human rights. Therefore, we ask the IACHR to consider the following recommendations for the Brazilian State:
1 – Creation of a National Council to confront hate speech and the dissemination of fake news with an intersectional perspective, in view of the violence and attacks suffered by the LGBTI+ population in the country.
2 – Establishment of policies and bills that constitutionally guarantee same-sex equal marriage, in addition to guaranteeing the safety of trans people in public bathrooms according to their gender identities and the plurality of unisex bathrooms.
3 – Collection of disaggregated data regarding the LGBTI+ population, either through the National Census or through surveys that foster the creation of specific public policies for this population.
4 – Training and education policies aimed at public security forces so that they can ensure the safety of Brazilian LGBTI+ people.
5 – Construction of a policy to confront gender-based political violence, with the provision of measures to protect LGBTI+ members of Congress.