Brazil is no longer safe for LGBTQ+ leaders

With Venezuela all over the news this week, I want to make sure people don’t forget to pay attention to the militia violence that’s threatening to expand in nearby Brazil. Anyone there who speaks out is a target, especially if they’re against police violence and/or they are the wrong color or gender. And especially so for Brazil’s queer politicians, just doing your job and living your life could now be a death sentence.

Now, of course I knew Jair Bolsonaro’s reign as the new president of Brazil was going to be bad. I knew his pre-election rhetoric hinted at the desire to return to fascism, and that he not only condoned police violence but actually encouraged it. I knew he was going to do no favors for his country’s queer community.

But now I’m replacing my fear with horror. It’s not just that ominous news and bad tidings lurk around the corner–it’s that the killers are already here.

Brazil’s First Openly Gay Congressman Flees His Country Due to Death Threats

Today Jean Wyllys announced he has left Brazil and has no plans to return due to the increasing threats on his life. Wyllys has been a frequent target of attacks from Brazil’s recently elected, staunchly homophobic President Jair Bolsonaro, and according to a statement by the Victory Institute (which seeks to increase the number of LGBTQ holding public office around the world), it’s believed allies of Bolsonaro are behind many of the death threats.
Wyllys, from all accounts, is no coward. You just can’t be chickenshit and still get elected as an openly gay Congressperson three times in Brazil–he was originally elected in 2010, and just won his third election to the Brazil Congress in 2018.
Jean Wyllys
Jean Wyllys, photo courtesy of Metro Jornal.

But 2018 was also the year when Wyllys’ friend and political ally Marielle Franco was murdered in Rio.

Marielle Franco was a young, black, gay, female city council member who fought openly against the police violence in Brazil, where black suspects are killed with impunity, especially after Rio’s policing was taken over by the military in a last-ditch attempt by then-President Michel Temer to look tough on crime in advance of the 2018 election.1
Marielle Franco led the charge against sexism, racism and police violence in Rio. I stole this badass image of her from Ignite.

 “Franco fought for the rights of women, single mothers like herself, gay people and favela residents. She denounced the violence inflicted by Rio’s police on the community as they fight – and occasionally collude – with the drug gangs and another force active on the streets: the unofficial militias whose members include serving and former police officers. In Rio state 154 people were killed “in opposition to police intervention” in January alone, 57% up year-on-year. Many think this is the reason Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were riddled with bullets last Wednesday night – and fear the killing will discourage others like her.”

Investigators almost immediately “determined that the bullet casings found at the crime scene had been purchased by the Federal Police in 2006″ and were part of the same batch used in a murder spree by two police and a municipal guard in 2015, which strongly hinted that Franco’s murder was a planned assassination connected to the police.

But now this week, we learned something even more shocking: not only did the authorities name a suspect in Franco’s murder, a militia leader who was indeed a former captain of BOPE (Special Operations Battalion of the Rio Military Police), but this murderer’s family used to work for Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio Bolsonaro.

As revealed by the media outlets of the Globo group, the presidential family’s eldest son, recently elected senator, at the time when he was state deputy in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro, hired as part of his staff the mother and the wife of former army captain Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega, identified as a leader of the “Escritório do Crime” militia, one of the oldest and most violent in the city—and, according to what has been uncovered in the investigations, the likely culprit for the assassination of municipal councilor Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes.

So I very much sympathize with Jean Wyllys’ desire to flee the country and seek safer shores.

Brazil now has a militia leader whose family worked for the new president’s son and who targets gay politicians for assassination.2

And far from distancing themselves from Adriano Magalhães, until this week, the Bolsonaro family did everything they could to flatter and promote him and his militia in the public eye. Flávio Bolsonaro even “pushed to award Adriano Magalhães … with the Tiradentes Medal, the highest honor granted by the Legislative Assembly of Rio, and voted against granting the same honor to Franco.” And his father famously said on the campaign trail that “Where the militias are, there is no violence.”

The only silver lining to come out of this whole thing is that all eyes are now on Bolsonaro3. After running on a campaign to clean up Brazilian politics, it’s becoming quite clear that not only is the dude buddy-buddying with crime bosses, but he and his son are doing shady things with money.4.

Speaking on the eve of Bolsonaro’s Davos speech, José Roberto de Toledo, a political journalist from the magazine Piauí … speculated that Bolsonaro would pay a political price for the growing whiff of corruption surrounding his son. “Flávio has put a sword [of Damocles] over his father’s head that will be used to blackmail him, in congress, in the courts, on social media and in the press. It will be a weight he will always have to carry – and the likelihood is for that weight to grow with time.”

Let’s hope that unlike in the United States, where neither George W. Bush or Donald Trump have had to step down despite the huge piles of smoking guns just sitting there on their desks5, the government of Brazil’s wheels of justice turn and oust Bolsonaro before he can entrench his evil, bigoted, corrupt, militaristic powers any further. But if signs from Brazil’s Supreme Court are any indication, things might go far better for Bolsonaro than he deserves.

D. M. Collins

D. M. Collins is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles.

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