As Rio Readies For Summer Olympics, LGBT Brazilians Are Being Murdered On An Epic Scale

Almost half of all the transgender murders in the world take place in Brazil, where, on average, one LGBT person is murdered every day.

As Orlando proved, anti-LGBT violence is a global problem. But in Brazil, it’s reached epidemic proportions—often with a gruesomeness that is shocking to even hardened activists.

According to the group Grupo Gay da Bahia, nearly 1,600 LGBT people have been murdered in the country since 2011. By their estimates, a gay or trans person is killed almost every day in Brazil.

Last year, a videotape surfaced of 25-year-old transgender samba dancer Piu da Silva, bloody, terrified and pleading for her life.

Relatives found da Silva’s body the next day, horribly disfigured and riddled with bullets. (Another trans woman was found with her eyes plucked out.)

In June, the charred bodies of gay professors Edivaldo Silva de Oliveira and Jeovan Bandeir were discovered in the trunk of a burning car in Bahia.

Edivaldo had to be identified by his dental records.

And just four days ago, gay student Diego Vieira Machado was found dead on the river banks in Rio de Janiero, naked from the waist down with his head bashed in.

There’s never any money missing, never any witnesses, and the police never have any suspects. (On Gaycation, Ellen Page met with a Brazilian police officer who admitted he has murdered gay people.)

There were even reports a few years back of a serial killer targeting gay men in Sao Paolo, one of Brazil’s biggest cities.

“We live off this image as an open and tolerant place,” Jandira Queiroz of Amnesty International Brazil told the New York Times. “[But] homophobic violence has hit crisis levels and it’s getting worse.”

Of course it’s not just LGBT people being victimized: Street crime is up 24% and homicide has increased nearly 15% across the board.

Just last week, body parts washed ashore on a beach that will be used by Olympic volleyball players.

Brazil is often seen as warm and accepting—it’s home to the world’s largest Pride celebration, after all.

But almost half of all the transgender murders in the world take place there, and more than 40% of all anti-LGBT violence.

“On the one hand, we are a pink country, celebrating sexual diversity and showing gay couples easily on our telenovelas,” says Grupo Gay da Bahia founder Luiz Mott. “Then, there is another color, the red blood of victims.”

Some see the violence as backlash against the country’s more progressive impulses.

“Those who remain intolerant and opposed to LGBT rights are developing new strategies and a more virulent discourse to block progress on those issues,” explains Javier Corrales, a political scientist who studies LGBT groups in Latin America, in the Times piece.

Those opponents find a safe harbor in evangelical Christianity, which has blossomed in Brazil since being imported from the U.S. In 1970, just 5% of Brazilians considered themselves evangelicals. Now that number is closer to one-fourth of the population.

In 2013 Silas Malafaia, the multimillionaire head of the Assembly of God church, organized a March for the Family in Brasilia to protest gay marriage and decriminalizing abortion. “Gay activism is moral garbage,” Malafaia told a crowd of thousands. “Satan will not destroy our family values.”

Evangelicals have grabbed power in Brazil’s Congress, as well—forming a voting bloc that’s throttled anti-discrimination and hate-crime laws.

Jair Bolsonaro, a prominent congressman, compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia and recommended corporal punishment to “cure” homosexuality. (Bolsonaro also said he’d rather his son die than come out as gay.)

And Lower House President Eduardo Cunha (below), third in line to the presidency, claimed Brazil is “under attack” by gays. He’s trying to overturn the 2013 court ruling bringing marriage equality to the country.

Eduardo Cunha
Igo Estrela/Getty Images

“I don’t know what they can do,” worries Jean Wyllys, Brazil’s only openly gay congressman. “But I can say with certainty that it won’t be good for us.”

Before the world casts its gaze toward to Brazil next month for the Summer Olympics, much unpleasantness will be swept out of view.

That won’t mean a crackdown on anti-LGBT violence, though—more likely, it means more poor trans and gay Brazilians being thrown in jail and murdered. Will the world take notice, like it did with Russian homophobia during the Sochi Games?

Ironically, the Rio Olympics will have a Pride House, where LGBT athletes can relax and feel safe.

LGBT Brazilians, however, feel anything but.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.