Last week, Jair Bolsonaro, a conservative congressman from Rio was interviewed on a popular Brazilian political comedy show, and spouted off a series of blatantly racist, homophobic, and pro-dictatorship comments - and with incredible arrogance and self-assurance, to boot.
On the one hand, I didn't think much of it: a right-wing politician known for radical views is a racist homophobe? Shocker. In fact, it wasn't the first time he'd made controversial comments on TV: while searching for these videos, I found another video from CQC, from November 2010, where he makes homophobic comments. It didn't seem very out of the ordinary.
On the other hand, two things happened.
The first is that there was an immediate and huge backlash against the congressman. He's now being investigated and will have to testify for "breaking parliamentary decorum." Since racism is a crime in Brazil, he may also be investigated for racism as well. But the silver lining was that it really got people talking and started a dialogue, particularly in relation to homophobia. There have been protests and petitions, but it's also shined light on issues that are tend to be studiously avoided in Brazil. Racism, though denied as a myth by some, has traditionally had more attention than homphobia; gay rights is relatively new on the national scene despite the fact that Brazil has one of Latin America's largest LGBT movements dating back to the 1970s. It's just something people don't talk much about outside of more liberal or middle class urban circles, and even smaller things, like the concept of gay slurs being used in everyday conversation, still haven't quite been addressed. So the Bolsonaro debacle was fortunate, in this way, for drawing attention to an issue worth talking about.
The second was this. The thing that had me wondering about the incident from the get-go was the obvious dilemma in terms of the TV show. In the video, Bolsonaro implies that children somehow become gay if they have bad parents. But he didn't just say it on national TV - he said it on a show hosted and run by Marcelo Tas, whose own daughter is gay. This, I knew, because Luiza is a friend of mine, who I actually met through this blog (you may remember her guest post from 2009). As soon as I saw the video, I wondered what her dad would do.
The week after the original interview aired, the show let Bolsonaro "respond" to his previous comments (which just dug him even deeper into the bigot hole), and then at the end of the segment, Tas responded personally to Bolsonaro and "outed" his daughter (though since she's openly gay, it was more like "outing" himself as a parent):
Tas, as well as Luiza, who's already an activist, became symbols of tolerance and gay rights overnight. It's a pretty big deal, and it's been all over the news:
Luiza also gave a great interview to Estadão, which you can listen to here.
The discussion about homophobia and gay rights couldn't come at a better time. Recently, there's interest in several states and even the federal government to ensure rights for gay couples, specifically legalizing civil unions. Famous people, usually men, who are out of the closet or rumored to be gay face an uphill battle; for example, the (few) openly gay athletes in Brazil are often publicly harassed, even tormented. But above all, hate crimes against gays are amongst the worst in the world; in fact, one study found that Brazil has the highest rate of murders of gays of any country. Last year, there were 260 murders considered hate crimes against LGBTs, a 13 percent increase from 2009 and an 113 percent increase from 2007. The states with the most murders were Bahia and Alagoas, followed by São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
There's been a lot of talk about censoring Bolsonaro and people like him, or even shows like CQC that aired the interview. But sometimes it takes extremist views to wake people up and get them talking, and to highlight the importance of issues that are sometimes overlooked. I think it's unlikely Bolsonaro will face any serious charges or punishment, but really the best punishment would be losing the next election. (Plus, as several people I've talked to have mentioned, having Congress focus on Bolsonaro is a convenient distraction from addressing congressmen with serious charges of corruption, or worse.) Hopefully the incident will serve as an example that things need to change and can change, and one of the first steps, I think, began with Tas and Luiza.