Threats to Gay Rights in Brazil, Colltalers
To start a newsletter with a checklist has many pros and at least one con. It makes it easy to track what’s keeping us up at night, and signals that we may return to any of these boiling pots at anytime. But if listing is made into a habit, only mentioning them may as well be pointless.
This time it may be inevitable to do just that, though. For we need to discuss the assault the LGBT community in Brazil is undergoing right now, and the risk its advances may be dialed back by rightwing political forces. More of that in a minute, but first, back to that list of issues.
There’s Trump’s mishandling of North Korea, while also rubbing Iran the wrong way; the hurricane season’s ongoing devastation; another failed Republican stab at Obamacare; and more angst about immigrants, Dreamers or not. These are now part of our routine of afflictions.
Still, since the world does not revolve around the U.S., these may be far from being concerns to millions of people. The plight of Rohyngia Muslims, for instance, being mercilessly chased away by Thailand, and seeking shelter at mostly-flooded Bangladesh, can’t be ignored. In fact, the whole South Asia is drowning in inundation and misery. And let’s not forget those still trapped in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
But that’s the reason why lists are so ineffective as action mechanisms: they trivialize pain and turn despair into mere PowerPoint schematics. The breaking news about American football that came up last week, which seems to confirm that players are being severely brain-damaged in the name of entertainment, and to help a multibillion sport franchise profit from it, is another interesting metaphor for what’s happening.
The realization that the game is irredeemably hazardous to those who practice it may spell its end. Or make us all accomplices, and slaves, to its destructive power. Many knew the risks, but only when players started killing people, and themselves, the issue was finally confronted.
It may sound flippant to insert news about an American sport that attracts little interest around the world. But the $13 billion in annual revenues the league makes – not including
owners’ personal wealth, players’ contracts, and clubs’ incomes – is not just a staggering amount to be reckoned with; is more than many of the countries now dealing with nefarious climate change impact will ever receive in recovery aid.
The points to be driven home are, one, we need to keep abreast and well informed about all big themes of our time. That requires a constant updating of our knowledge and fully exercising of our critical thinking chops. And two, sometimes it’s necessary to prioritize and focus on a restricted number of issues, so to get something accomplished. That may explain our insistence on tackling Brazil’s cultural wars this week.
The latest backlash against individual rights in Latin America’s largest and most diversified society started on Aug. 15. That’s when the show, ‘Queermuseu – Cartografias da Diferença na Arte Brasileira,’ opened in Porto Alegre, the country’s southernmost capital. An extensive survey of works by Brazilian artists committed to express sexual diversity, the show was gathering public and critical acclaim for its depth and reach.
But the picketing by a group sponsored by the evangelical right, a consistently strident voice against individual liberties, was enough to intimidate Banco Santander, the exhibition’s host, which anticipated the shut down of Queermuseu by almost a month from its schedule.
The arbitrary act of censorship was immediately denounced by artists, cultural promoters, progressive institutions and lefty political groups, prompting comparisons to Nazi Germany. The historical parallel, although appropriated, is not quite accurate though: when the Gestapo began to close down art shows, the systematic extermination of Jews, gays, gypsies and any ‘deviant’ people was already at full blast.
Unfortunately, the incident did not provoke enough indignation from the general population. Just as even bigger corruption scandals at top echelons of government have so far failed to challenge the lack of legitimacy of Brazil’s chief, Michel Temer. Doesn’t it sound familiar?
But as the issue seemed to fade away, at least initially, the second of a low-blow, two-punch attack hit the community: a judge overturned last week an 18-year ban on the so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ a brutal, ineffective, and harmful pseudo-treatment to ‘reverse’ homosexuality.
Brazilian activists have taken the streets since Friday to protest the measure, hoping that this time, the core of society recognizes the dangers of invoking bad science to enforce a radical religious agenda. Cornered, Judge Waldemar de Carvalho issued a statement, trying to justify his ruling, which went against a Federal Council of Psychology decision, made in 1999, that has across-the-board support of Western academia.
Taken individually, and out of context, the two events may not seem linked, or even relevant, given the institutional and political turmoil Brazil is embroiled at the moment. Together, though, they do resonate with the religious right’s overall aim to undermine personal freedoms.
Anyone minimally acquainted with Brazilian culture is aware that the country is far from its global image of sex paradise, inhabited by party people devoted to the pleasures of the flesh. It’s not just that no place can live up to such gross generalization. In the case of Brazil, even issues that have been litigated to death, such as a woman’s decision to have an abortion, or same-sex marriage, are stuck in the slow lane.
More ominously, though, for all its notoriety as a liberal sex democracy, reflected by Carnaval, its lustful annual pagan feast, Brazil may be the world’s deadliest place for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia. A member of the community is reported to be killed nearly daily there. To reinstate the infamous ‘gay cure’ may represent a real mortal danger to some 20 million Brazilians.
The issue of individual freedom, being it for expressing oneself, choosing a sexual orientation, or conducting one’s life as they see fit, short of inflicting harm to others, are not ‘themes of our times.’ They’re democratic principles, like freedom of the press, and right to congregate, among many others. Take any of them away, and the whole construct of democracy may tumble. Brazil’s at the crossroads on that particular.
The comparison about what’s going on in the U.S. and Brazil seem no longer artificially engendered. There are common, and very real, threats to both countries’ ability to protect their citizens, and serve as beacons of hope to the world. And this is indeed a quest for our age.
Some of these threats may not seem directed at us, or be connected. But they are. Oppression and hatred come from the same place. Being in society, with its guarantees and privileges, also implies to stand up for each other’s rights, as different as they may be. For if they are coming for your neighbor now, you can be sure that you’re next. And brace for the far-right advances in Germany’s elections. Frieden und liebe. WC