Violent deaths of LGBT people in Brazil hits all-time high

Sam Cowie in São Paulo
An attendee of São Paulo’s gay pride parade. Despite Brazil’s inclusive image, the country has a strong conservative streak. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Violent deaths of LGBT people in Brazil have hit an all-time high following a sudden spike last year, new research reveals.

At least 445 LGBT Brazilians died as victims of homophobia in 2017 – a 30% increase from 2016, according to LGBT watchdog group Grupo Gay de Bahia.

The victims – 387 murders and 58 suicides – include Dandara dos Santos, a transexual woman who was beaten to death in the north-eastern Brazil city Fortaleza in March. A video of her being beaten and kicked circulated on social media with her torturers calling her homophobic slurs.

Brazil is one of the world’s most violent countries, with a record 62,000 homicides in 2016, but authors of the research say that the deaths were directly related to homophobia.

Luiz Mott, an anthropologist and president of Grupo Gay de Bahia, said the rising violence owed much to the prominence of ultraconservative politicians, many of whom are linked to the country’s powerful evangelical caucus in congress.

“It’s a discourse that destroys solidarity and equates LGBT people to animals,” he said.

TV programs linked to evangelical churches often compare homosexuality to the devil, she said

Homophobic speech is not a federal crime in Brazil, while similar state and municipal laws are rarely effective or enforced.

“In the last decade Brazil looked to produce policies that could protect vulnerable groups like gay and trans people but they mostly failed, due to lack of investment or change in vision of policy,” said Jurema Werneck, executive director at Amnesty International Brazil.

The violence might seem at odds with Brazil’s image as an inclusive nation that is home to the world’s largest gay parade and where gay marriage is legal.

But the country has a strong conservative streak too: one of the leading candidates in this year’s presidential election is former army captain Jair Bolsonaro who has said that gay children can be “beaten straight”.

In March last year, federal congressman Victório Galli said on radio that Mickey Mouse was a homosexual infiltrator and Disney was an apologist for “gayness” sending subliminal messages to children.

In September, a Brazilian judge approved gay “conversion therapy”, a week after an exhibition of gay art was cancelled.