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Bolsonaro's hateful homophobia echoes here even more than his dimwit denialism does

APTOPIX Brazil Day Against IDAHOT
Andre Penner
Activists march holding a giant rainbow flag in support of gay rights on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

COMMENTARY: More Americans are rejecting the kind of election denialism Brazil's president is pushing — but are more embracing his brand of homophobic cruelty?

I was tempted this week to write about right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro suddenly claiming, like a fuming 4-year-old, that the reelection bid he lost last month, in a perfectly legitimate vote, was stolen from him because the ballot-counting machines were somehow defective.

But I won’t. Every election equipment expert on Earth has quickly dismissed Bolsonaro’s assertion as a lame lie on par with the demented denialism we’re finally tuning out here in the U.S. So it would be an epic waste of time.

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Still, I’m glad Bolsonaro diverted our attention to Brazil at this particular moment, because Americans, especially Floridians, should shift their uneasy gaze there for a while. Not because of Bolsonaro’s election lunacy, but because of another, deadlier legacy that can at least be partly attributed to his shamelessly — if not viciously — homophobic presidency. And it’s one that resonates in the U.S. as we try to process yet another hate-driven massacre at an LGBTQ establishment.

Elza Fiuza
File photo - Protest against killings of LGBTQ persons in Brazil's capital Brasilia.

Brazil has long been one of the world’s most lethal places for LGBTQ people — and is the most lethal for transgender people. That hasn’t changed since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, even though that same year Brazil’s Supreme Court criminalized homophobic and transphobic acts. In 2020 Brazil saw 175 murders of trans people, one of the highest numbers in the country’s history. Last year that dipped to 125, but it still led the world — and was hardly a stat to take comfort in since the nation with the second-worst trans-homicide toll, Mexico, registered 65.

Brazil’s bigot-in-chief, meanwhile, has been blowing every attack-dog whistle in his pockets. Infamous for insisting he “could never love any of my children if they were gay,” Bolsonaro condemned the Supreme Court decision. That set a gay-bashing tone more toxic than bootleg cachaça, one that’s helped keep Brazil’s Congress from moving on an LGBTQ-rights bill.

Bolsonaro's saved his real poison, though, for transgender people. During his re-election campaign this year — since he couldn’t stump on his snarling pandemic denialism, which helped saddle Brazil with the world’s second-highest COVID-19 death tally — he took aim at transexuais.

If you're an American — especially a Floridian — you'll recognize the vile code, as toxic as bootleg cachaça, that Brazil's bigot-in-chief uses to trigger hatred of the LGBTQ community.

“Little José should stay little José his whole life – and little Maria should stay little Maria,” Bolsonaro said at one stop. “Their characters shouldn’t be defiled by something their school says is OK. We don’t want some scoundrel boy or man using the same bathroom our daughters use.”

Sound familiar?

Bolsonaro made sure to use the Portuguese term moleque, which often implies a kind of street delinquent, to describe males who identify as females. If you’re an American, or a Floridian, you’ll likely recognize that kind of vile code — especially the “males invading female bathrooms” and “schools grooming kids for sex changes” tropes. They leach into every recent anti-trans lawsuit and law, including the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation Republican Governor Ron DeSantis shoved onto the books this year.

A makeshift memorial to the five victims killed in last week's shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs

Doubly unholy

We can rationally discuss whether kindergartners are too young to understand what “gay” or “transgender” means. But stop irrationally — cruelly — demanding that a teacher keep it hidden when one of those kindergartners has two dads or two moms. We can reasonably debate whether a male-to-female trans swimmer and her physical advantages should be allowed to compete in girls’ or women’s events. But stop unreasonably — hatefully — going out of your way to demean transgender females like University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas.

I know — I’m close to — transgender people, including a college student like Thomas. I’ve witnessed what an anguishing journey their transition is — and I’ve witnessed how liberating it is when persons make that Ovidian metamorphosis to who they were meant to be. Who the sublime wonders of nature meant them to be. Who, speaking as a Roman Catholic, I believe God meant them to be.

Which makes it doubly, triply unholy when anyone spews the kind of Bolsonarista rhetoric about trans people that triggers homophobic nuts to lock and load and murder the innocent at LGBTQ venues. Like Club Q in Colorado Springs, where five people were killed last weekend.

And, oh, I almost forgot: I left out something when I cited Brazil and Mexico as leading the world in murders of transgender people last year.

Following not so far behind in third place was the U.S.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.