Six of the Brazilian Federal Tribunal’s 11 judges have voted in favour of making homophobia and transphobia crimes. The five other judges will vote in a court session on June 5, although the result will not be modified. The decision will take legal effect after all justices have voted.
The majority considered discrimination against homosexual and transgender people to be equivalent to the crime of racism. It was ruled that homophobia should thus be framed within the country’s racism laws until Congress approves legislation to deal specifically with LBGTQ discrimination. Racism was criminalised in Brazil in 1989 and can result in a prison sentence of up to five years. There have been almost 20 years of effort to make homophobia a crime in Brazil, however conservative and religious groups in Congress have typically opposed such developments.
Although Brazil legalised same-sex marriage in 2013 and LGBT couples were given the right to adopt, the strong presence of the Catholic church and the evangelical movement have led to significant resistance to the promotion of gay rights. Further, Jair Bolsonaro, the President of the state, who receives strong support from conservative voters, has openly described himself as a homophobe. He has commented that he would rather have a dead son than a homosexual son.
Activists and human rights groups have raised concerns over the possibility of an escalation in crimes against gay and transgender people following the election of Bolsonaro. According to Grupo Gay da Bahia, 141 LGBT people have already been killed in Brazil this year. Last year, 420 members of the LGBT community were killed. “Homophobic crimes are as alarming as physical violence,” Supreme Court Vice-President Luiz Fux said on his vote, mentioning “epidemic levels of homophobic violence”.
The decision of the Supreme Court is therefore extremely timely considering Bolsonaro’s homophobic comments and the prevalence of violence across the country. Bruna Benevides, president of the Niteroi Diversity Group, said the ruling “comes at a very good moment when we have a head of state who is LGBT-phobic”. Amongst fears that the far-right President will roll back LGBT rights and social gains, “the Supreme Court assumed the responsibility to protect us”.