By Cecilie Hestbæk, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As last Sunday’s “gay parade” in Copacabana attracted over 800,000 people to the city’s most famous beach, Brazilian policy-makers still struggle with human rights legislation supporting homosexuals and protecting the rights of alternative lifestyles.
On Sunday though, tall, slender women with deep male voices pose for the photographers while muscular men wearing only g-strings hold hands and kiss on the street. Not an everyday sight at Copacabana in Zona Sul, but today all sexual preferences are flaunted and celebrated at the fifteenth Gay Pride held in Rio.
José Gonzalez from Texas, U.S., has lived in Rio for four months, and is happy that on this day he does not have to hide his homosexuality. Normally in Rio, he explains, he is a victim of verbal attacks on a daily basis.
“They – people on the street – yell viado (fag), after us. The hate towards gay people here is so much stronger than in the U.S., back home I have never been yelled at or threatened, but here it happens every day.”
Gonzalez’ experience is not unique, despite many years of appeals for equal rights and social reform, homosexuals in Brazil are still attacked all over the country in alarming numbers. According to Amnesty International, one person dies every two days as a victim of homophobic crime in Brazil.
Many feel that the Brazilian government has not taken measures to curb the hate crimes. Brazilian Congress has struggled since 2006 to approve legislation categorizing homophobic violence as crime, and the lack of basic human rights on this area has attracted international attention from the LGBT community.
Gonzalez is afraid Brazil still has a long way to go for homosexuals to obtain protection from prejudice. “I definitely have to be more aware here, not to be ‘too gay’. It feels like it, the discrimination, is a part of the culture – that it in general is accepted to act like that.”
Gonzalez’ friend, John James Hillegass from Chicago, agrees. He has lived in Brazil for over one year, and has the impression that both politicians and common Brazilians feel uncomfortable talking about issues like sexual discrimination.
“It is a very sensitive subject here. The Brazilians like to think of themselves as very tolerant and open-minded, but the fact is that despite of grand homosexual manifestations like the gay parade today, homophobia is a great problem.”
Religion has proven to have great influence on politics in Brazil, and it has not been supportive of the homosexual agenda for social reform. Newly elected President Dilma Rousseff lost a significant segment of voters when there was doubt about her stand on abortion in a period before the election.
To maintain the support of a great amount of voters in Brazil, shortly before the second round of the elections Rousseff sent a letter to churches stating that “If I am elected President of the Republic, I will not take the initiative to propose amendments to legislation on abortion and other issues concerning the family.”
While Rio de Janeiro has recently been voted the World’s Sexiest Destination, it seems legal and social reforms for homosexuals is still some distance in the horizon. But major shows of support like the 2010 Gay Pride parade will certainly help make the voices heard.