In the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there were countless stories to tell about the country’s anti-LGBT laws and the limitations that might be placed on LGBT athletes, such as the rejection of a Pride House in the Olympic Village. On its face, Brazil looks totally different, and yet LGBT athletes, staff, and fans might still face a unique risk of violence — in addition to all the other problems plaguing the Rio Olympics.
According to its laws, Brazil is one of the most gay-friendly countries around. Same-sex couples have enjoyed marriage equality since 2011, and officials can’t refuse to perform a civil wedding. In fact, the Constitution has a general provision explicitly prohibiting laws that allow for discrimination, though there is not a law specifying protections for LGBT people yet.
But despite this rosy legal picture, there has actually been epidemic of anti-LGBT violence. Transgender people and others with gender-nonconforming characteristics have been particularly targeted in these attacks. In January alone, at least 48 trans women were murdered in Brazil. In the year 2014, an estimated 326 LGBT people were killed, and they were disproportionately trans people. In fact, Brazil has the world’s highest rate of fatal violence against transgender people. Meanwhile, Grupo Gay da Bahio estimates that there have been at least 1,600 hate-motivated LGBT deaths in the past four and a half years — about one murdered gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person a day.
Rather than protecting LGBT people from this violence, police are often perpetuating it. In recent months there has been a “surge” of police killings, particularly of young, black men from poor communities. The poverty trans and gender-nonconforming people are more likely to experience because of discrimination makes them all the more vulnerable.
The Brazilian landscape is not guaranteed to improve for LGBT people either, with Christian evangelical fundamentalism on the rise both throughout society and politics. As an example, Congressman Jail Bolsonaro, who many have called “Brazil’s Donald Trump” because of his outrageous views, is already ramping up a presidential campaign for 2018. He is exceedingly anti-LGBT, regularly using anti-gay epithets to attack his opponents. He has compared marriage equality to pedophilia and claimed that LGBT people want to recruit children for sex.
This anti-LGBT violence and sentiment could permeate what should otherwise be an inclusive Olympics. The Pride House is back, promising a welcoming space to celebrate and honor LGBT athletes and promote human rights internationally.
Despite new guidelines for allowing transgender athletes to participate, no openly trans athletes qualified this year. But there may be trans coaches, support staff, family, or friends on their way to Rio.
What kind of experience they will have remains to be seen.