Brazilians will be choosing new mayors and councilors on Sunday. Three times as many trans candidates are running as in 2016, and there are also more non-white candidates.
Brazil is one of the deadliest countries in the world for LGBTQI people. Although homophobia and transphobia are considered crimes, same-sex marriage is allowed, gay and lesbian couples are allowed to adopt children and trans people can change their gender in their passports, tolerance for alternative role and gender identities is low, particularly outside the large cities.
Every year, hundreds of LGBTQI people are killed in the country, where macho culture and ultra-conservative evangelical churches still hold great sway. According to several human rights groups, this makes Brazil a world leader for such deaths, at least among countries where data is available.
For this reason, equal rights activists and advocates are all the more pleased that three times as many transgender candidates — people who do not identify at all or only partly with their biological sex — are running in upcoming local elections as four years ago.
According to figures from the National Association of Travestis* and Transsexuals (ANTRA), 281 trans people are running for local political posts, including two for mayor and one for deputy mayor. In 2016, only 89 trans people ran as candidates, according to ANTRA.
Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal itself differentiates only between female and male in the details it gives about candidates. It says a good third of the 557,000 candidates are (biologically) female and two-thirds are (biologically) male. This means that the proportion of women taking part in these local elections is 1.7 percentage points higher than at the polls in 2016.
Another difference this time round has to do with skin color or ethnicity. According to the tribunal, 51.3% of the candidates define themselves as "pardo" (brown), "preto" (Black), "indigena" (indigenous) or "amarelo" (Asian). That is more than in past years — and, according to media, the first time that non-white candidates are in the majority. In a country in which 51% of people have African roots and racism is still very widespread, this is very significant.
One of the two trans people running for the post of mayor is Leticia Lanz, who wants to lead Brazil's eighth-largest city, Curitiba, in the south of the country. On Facebook, Lanz, a 68-year-old trans woman who is married to a woman, states: "I don't want to win just your vote, but also your minds, your hearts and your hands."
While Lanz is the candidate for the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), there are also trans candidates from the other end of the political spectrum. The second trans person running for mayor is Bianca Biancardi from the Party of the Brazilian Woman (PMB). This party is not, as the name suggests, a feminist party but one that leans to the right. Biancari, who runs a beauty salon in the southeastern city of Cariacica, said in an interview recently that she was a Christian and advocated conservative positions.
When asked about the prejudices held by many conservatives, and particularly by the right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro, against trans people, Biancari, a trans woman, said: "It is years since Bolsonaro made critical comments, if he ever did. If he really had problems with trans people, he would not have let Family Minister Damares Alves carry out a national project to improve the chances of LGBTQI people on the labor market."
That project does indeed exist — but it stands out as the only thing the controversial minister has done for the LGBTQI community. Before that, Alves, an evangelical pastor, tended to garner attention for comments such as that girls should wear pink and boys blue.
Alves, who is in charge of protecting minorities, also defends Bolsonaro against accusations of homophobia and transphobia. "They call him homophobic, but he has gay friends. And he values this ministry, which has an LGBT department," she said last year. But it remains an open question whether she convinced anyone with these arguments.
Local elections in Brazil always take place two years after the presidential elections and are seen as a litmus test for voter sentiment at a national level. And it is also true that at this year's elections, there will be 34% more evangelical candidates on the ballot than four years ago.
Despite this, many predict that the fundamentalist Christian camp will suffer a hammering. Important candidates from the Republicans — the political arm of the evangelical "Universal Church" — like Celso Russomanno in Sao Paulo are likely to face setbacks. Rio de Janeiro's ultraconservative mayor, the evangelical bishop Marcelo Crivella, is also likely to lose his position after a series of corruption scandals and administrative abuses.
Politicization through violence
These local elections are the first time that trans candidates are allowed to run under their "social names" — the way they want to be named according to their gender identity. In all, 171 candidates have made use of this option.
Keila Simpson, the president of the NGO ANTRA, believes that part of the reason why so many more trans people than previously are running in the election in 2020 is the violence they face. In May alone, 38 trans people were murdered in Brazil, Simpson told the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
"That's why there is a political awakening in the community. Trans bodies are political in themselves, but to run as a candidate is a statement against all those who want to relegate them to the fringes of society," Simpson said.
*Travesti is a transgender identity with regional and contextual particularities throughout Brazil and Latin America (Note from the ANTRA website)