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Gay congressman leaves Brazil, cites death threats

January 24, 2019

Jean Wyllys told a Brazilian paper that he had left the country and would not be returning to start his third term. The advocate for LGBT rights described the atmosphere under new President Jair Bolsonaro as "unsafe."

Jean Wyllys speaks into a microphone
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Pimentel

Jean Wyllys, a prominent openly gay congressman in Brazil, said he was stepping down from his position in response to death threats.

Wyllys made the announcement in an interview published on Thursday in the daily Folha de S. Paulo. In it, he said that he was currently outside of the country and had no plans to return.

He told the paper that he intended to work in academia going forward.

"This was not an easy decision, and it involved a lot of pain, because I am also giving up being close to my family, my dear friends, and the people who love me and want me near them," Wyllys said in the interview.

A target of fake news

The 44-year-old entered office in 2011 as a congressional representative from Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) — a group that split away from Brazil's largest socialist party. He was the first gay congressman to actively push for LGBT rights and was frequently a target of defamation campaigns, largely via social media. 

Read more: Brazil police to probe allegations of election disinformation on WhatsApp

He had been re-elected in October and would have begun his third term in February.

Wyllys had been a close friend and ally of councilwoman Marielle Franco, also an PSOL member, who was shot dead with her driver in March 2018 in a dangerous Rio neighborhood.

In the interview, Wyllys said the death threats against him had increased in the aftermath of Franco's death. The paper said he had been living under police protection since her murder.

Read more: Death of Brazilian councilor marks birth of movement for new politics

A blurry poster of Marielle Franco is held up in front of Brazilians protesting and chanting
Following the murder of Wyllys' PSOL colleague Mariella Franco, many Brazilians took to the streets in protestImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/L. Correa

Unsafe atmosphere under Bolsonaro

Wyllys also criticized the Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has aired homophobic views.

"The president who always slandered me, who always insulted me openly, who always used homophobia against me — this environment is not safe for me," Wyllys told Folha. He said that the violence facing LGTB individuals in Brazil had "grown shockingly."

Read more: Jair Bolsonaro's stance on indigenous people is 'discriminatory and racist'

Jair Bolsonaro
Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, made highly homophobic statements before taking officeImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Pimentel

Wyllys shared his interview with Folha de S. Paulo on his twitter account with a personal message, writing: "Preserving threatened life is also a strategy of fighting for better days. We have done a lot for the common good. And we will do more when the new times come...Thanks to everyone with all my heart."

He signed off with the word "Axe!" — a type of Brazilian Afro-Caribbean music; the word also roughly translates as "positive energy" in the west African yoruba language. 

Before entering politics, Wyllys rose to fame by winning the fifth season of the reality housemate TV show Big Brother Brasil. He had been the first openly gay participant on the show.

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