Student Willian Donaldon comes from Brazil, a world leader on legislated LGBTIQ rights. The South American country decriminalised sodomy in 1830. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2013 and the Brazilian LGBTIQ community enjoy rights and protections unavailable in many countries. However, at least one LGBTIQ person is murdered in Brazil every two days, and the country recently elected right-wing, self-declared “proud homophobe” Jair Bolsonaro as President. We spoke to Willian to get his perspective on his home country.
Willian, thank you for talking to QNews Magazine. Were you openly gay in Brazil?
Yes, I was openly gay. I had the great privilege of coming from a loving and open-minded family. Though I faced some issues coming out, I never experienced what many do — becoming a pariah for family and kicked out of home or beaten up.
That privilege aided my personal journey. I could come out to my entire family ten years ago when I was sixteen whereas some friends still can’t consider it today.
As a kid, I felt there was something different with me, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. I really should have known. I loved playing with my friend’s Barbie dolls… That should’ve given me a hint!
However, in Brazil, I saw no positive role models to mirror myself. Gay characters on TV were exaggerated stereotypes, paedophiles or extremely promiscuous.
I was bullied in school because everyone else knew I was gay before I did. Once I came to terms with my sexuality, things took a nicer turn. I started living my life differently, became less affected by prejudice and life became a little lighter.
However, some employers refused me employment because I am gay, and I have faced threats of violence for holding hands in public. I have been told, “Don’t hug your boyfriend in public. No one wants to see men showing each other affection.”
Does the election of Jair Bolsonaro concern you?
It does. The presidency is our most powerful political institution. It has a critical influence over what is acceptable behaviour. With a president unconcerned by his own actions, what can we expect from the people who voted for him?
During the days since his inauguration, there has been non-stop news of conservatives discriminating against, and attacking LGBTIQ people — mostly trans.
On her first day in office, the Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights, Damares Alves, declared that from now on “boys wear blue and girls wear pink.”
Now responsible for not only LGBTIQ issues, but also others like abortion rights, she has said, “the State is secular, but this Minister is profoundly Christian.”
How have your LGBTIQ friends in Brazil reacted to his election?
I feel the country is divided. Most, if not all, my LGBTIQ friends hated the idea that Bolsonaro could become president and the damage he promised to LGBTIQ and other minority rights. However, even in our community some supported him.
People said, “He’s just saying that for votes. He won’t do it”.
But he stated he’d rather his son dead than gay!
Even if he doesn’t personally act on his extreme statements, he and his words will encourage and excuse the behaviour of those willing to attack us.
I don’t want to think badly of the LGBTIQ people who voted for him. However, they wanted the previous party out of power so much, they voted for a hateful bigoted man without considering the consequences. Those consequences will affect every Brazilian.
Are you apprehensive about the prospect of returning home?
Yes, it makes me apprehensive. I guess anyone would feel scared returning to a place that’s changed for the worse. I am scared for my friends at home, facing an uncertain future.
We don’t yet know what will happen. On his first day in office he removed LGBTIQ issues from the considerations of the human rights ministry and he is opposed to same sex marriage.
Who knows what he will do next?
I don’t return for another two years and in that time it’s possible my community will lose all our hard-won rights and face increased danger, or perhaps the country may negotiate a path through this presidency.
But right now, I wonder if anyone knows what is to come. Who knows what Bolsonaro, his team, his supporters and those who feel empowered by him to attack our community will do? How do we prepare before potentially devastating outcomes catch us all by surprise?