gay brazil global gayz lgbt impanema

A Huge Country with a Huge Gay Scene

For the second time in as many months I happened to be in a country when historic LGBT events have occurred.

First, in Botswana in March of this year when the human rights organization, Bonela, and the LGBT association LeGaBiBo, for the first time ever, filed a High Court suit against the government claiming the country’s anti-gay laws currently on the books are unconstitutional.

The second happened May 5, 2011 in Brazil when the Federal Supreme Court ruled unanimously (10 to 0) that Civil Unions are legally acceptable relationships between adult citizens of the same gender. The ruling grants that gay couples are entitled to most of the rights of heterosexual partners, including marital ceremonies, pension benefits, inheritance and, according to some lawyers, the right to adopt children. (photo, Iguacu Falls Brazil side)



“This is a historic moment for all Brazilians, not just homosexuals . This judgment will change everything for us in society–and for the better,” said Marcelo Cerqueira, president of the Brazilian gay rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia, based in Salvador.

The ruling was slow in coming as it worked its way through lower courts for two years, which had voted both against and in favor of the LGBT plaintiffs. After today’s final ruling one of the leading LGBT activists, Claudio Nascimento, head of Rio de Janeiro state’s Gay, Lesbian and Transsexuals Committee said (as GlobalGayz has said before), “The degree of civilization of a country can be measured by the way people in a nation treat their homosexual community…it’s a historic day for Brazil”.

It’s a great victory–to a degree. The Court decision is subject to legislated laws. That’s the next laborious step, to lobby congress for a permanent statute that validates same-sex unions, as well as passing a law that criminalizes homophobic activity. This will be a daunting challenge due to the strong opposition from church leaders (some of whom are also congress members) especially the conservative Catholic and Evangelical denominations.  Religion is the most cited reason for opposing gay rights. Regionally, opposition to the gay rights movement has been strongest in rural interior regions.

Brazil is BIG and Diverse

Brazil is a huge place with many faces to its LGBT scene scattered over thousands of miles. My trip this time included Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Iguaca Falls (photo above), Florianopolis and the city of Curitiba–more than enough for a mere three weeks. I met a dozen fine LGBT folks earnestly working at reducing homophobia in Brazil, others advocating equality and partnerships rights, some engaged in encouraging LGBT travel to Brazil and others who did none of these by pursuing their own personal lives.

Curiously, along the way, in contrast to the larger religious mainstream sects, I came across a unique Brazilian belief system called Candomble that originally came from Africa with Nago, Yoruba and Jeje slaves ripped from their homes in the 18th and 19th centuries. Candomble has a deity structure that focuses on an ‘orixa’ (orisha) pantheon of gods, male and female, each with unique character traits including being able to switch genders at will. One deity is named Logunede who is believed to be the  son of two male gods. Ogun and Oxoss. Logunede (photo left) is male for six months and female for six months. Needless to say, adherents to this belief system are more open to mortal homosexual beings than any other religion in Brazil. If anyone wants to study this unique subculture they will be well advised to learn the Yoruba language, although there is much literature in English. (I think I may have seen the god Logunede–and his friends–on the beach at Ipenema!)

Sao Paulo

One might guess that life in Brazil begins and ends in Sao Paulo. This gigantic city of 20 million has the country’s largest LGBT population by far. The city has 110 museums, 40 cultural centers, more than 260 cinemas, 167 theaters and concert halls. Not to mention shopping with 77 malls and shopping streets, over 12,000 restaurants, with 52 types of gastronomy from all over the world. As well as dozens of gay bars, cafes, shops, restaurants including eight saunas. There is even a ‘gay shopping mall’, Shopping Frei Caneca, in the Jardins district where ‘window shopping’ takes on a new meaning.

There are dozens of LGBT organizations that serve different LGBT sub-sets. It would take month for a reporter to cover all the LGBT organizations in Sao Paulo. I had to limit myself to ABRAT GLS, Gay Travel Brasil, Casarao Brazil and the Pride March; more next time.

Two useful websites that cover the social scene are: Mix Brasil, a website (in Portuguese) with information and blogs on music, upcoming events and news for the gay community in Brazil. See the Mix Brasil Agenda page.  ACAPA  is an online resource for the gay community with information on events, lifestyle and culture in Brazil. (Note: some of the information on these sites is in Portuguese; don’t be put off by that–use Google translation for instant comprehension.)



I visited ABRAT GLS, Brazil’s first tourist information Center focused on LGBT travel, opened in 2010. The center is the result of several organizations including the city’s São Paulo Turismo (SPTuris), São Paulo Convention & Visitors Bureau (SPCVB) along with the Brazilian Association of Tourism for Gays, Lesbians and Sympathizers.

The Center’s home is at the offices of Casarão Brasil, a privately funded support organization for LGBT people dealing with personal and social issues from health to friendships to parents to safe sex. It’s also a drop-in center to be with like-minded others in this huge city that can feel anonymous. The founder is Douglas Drumond, a native Brazilian, who also owns a popular sauna in SP. In a recent interview he said, “I started Casarao because when I lived abroad–San Francisco and New York–I experienced the freedom of being gay and I wanted to bring that back here.”

ABRAT GLS, along with another organization, CADS (Coordination of Sexual Diversity Issues) has assisted the Center in producing a Gay São Paulo Guide in Portuguese and English that can be downloaded for free.(Also see the visually pleasing YouTube video ‘Come Live the Rio Sensation’ produced by the City Hall of Rio.)

I spoke with Oswaldo Faria (photo left with Casarao staffer Mara Viegas), the new president of ABRAT GLS at Casarao one afternoon. He was well versed in the statistics and demographic of LGBT travel worldwide, such as: gays travel 5 times more than straights, 60% of LGBT travel is by males and most travel is destination travel, to a particular place (such as Rio for Carnival).

ABRAT GLS is not itself a travel agency but rather a coordinating body that helps organize Brazil’s many travel-related businesses to advertise, keep informed of travel news and events, form partnerships with airlines and hotels, promote Brazil as a LGBT destination and organize for trade shows, seminars and conventions. “We also offer training seminars to businesses–hotels, restaurants, airlines–on how to deal with gay customers, mainly regarding cordiality and respect; how to make gay couples feel ‘normal’. We remind them that ‘gay-friendly is money-friendly. It wasn’t easy at first (10-12 years ago) to get companies to pay attention to our market but now they come to us with ideas and promotions, including major airlines and hotels.”

Oswaldo said it is also very helpful to have a pro-gay national government in power, as with former president Lula da Silva and current president Dilma Rousseff.

Oswaldo’s own company, based in Rio since 2000, is Gay Travel Brasil. But since Brazil is still not free of homophobia and discrimination, Oswaldo is careful to protect customers’ privacy by using a cover name for much of his travel dealings. “We are moving quickly into a more tolerant future but the corporate world is not there yet so we have to be cautious and give privacy to our travelers, whether for business or leisure.” (If you book with Oswaldo, ask him about the first drag ball in Brazil–in 1754!)

‘The’ Parade

The Gay Pride Parade in Sao Paulo (photo right) is considered the biggest Pride Parade in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.  In 2010, over 3 million people attended the 14th annual version. (The 2011 parade will be on June 26 http://www.gaypridebrazil.org/sao-paulo/ ) To help ensure success, the federal, state and city governments city help subsidize the event both because of tolerant social policies as well as the fact that 400,000 tourists (at least) bring in an estimated R$190 million (US$120m) in revenues during the festivities.  The 2010 parade was about two and half miles long (4.2 km)  starting around noon in the gay district of Avenida Paulista, by the Modern Art Museum (MASP), and ending at Roosevelt Square about 10 PM.

The organizing force behind this giant event is Pride Parade Association of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People (APOGLBT) presided over by it president Luiz Ideraldo Beltrame. After being installed in late 2010 he re-affirmed the Parade’s underlying mission “to promote  the ideals of the organization: visibility, equality, justice and opportunity, in a country free of hatred, discrimination and prejudice.” His focus on this mission underscores the ongoing need to have a political agenda as well as a great party. Homophobia still runs high in this large country of 190 million people many of who are conservative Christians.

The parade itself takes a year in the planning and months in preparation. Virtually every LGBT group is presented. These photos speak for themselves: Thomas Hobbs Gallery; BBC Gallery

There is no concentrated gay ‘ghetto’ in SP but the neighborhoods along Rua Frei Caneca and Rua Consolacao in the Jardins-Paulista district are leafy upscale residential areas with many LGBT-owned apartments in high-rise towers and numerous cafes and restaurants along the streets. Here also are gay clubs and saunas as well as the cruisy shopping mall, Shopping Frei Caneca, with a spicy reputation, so I was told. The day I visited there was a long line of soccer fans waiting for tickets to go on sale for a local match. (Brazilians are fanatical about soccer, including many gays. It cuts across all segments of society.)

Douglas Drumond from Casarao arguably claims that 80% of the residents in the Frei Caneca district are gay. “We have the biggest gay community in the world here, I want to see it as a community that is safe and free from homophobia.” Some occasional gay bashing does happen even in the Paulista area which he says is often not taken seriously enough by the police. One effort to counter this is the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, started three years ago with one of its goals to improve relations with the police. Another of his projects is to start a shelter for homeless youth who have been rejected by their families.

Also see: Gay Guide Sao Paulo, ILGA Brazil Reports, Gay Rights in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro

Rio’s reputation as a gay destination has been long established partly because of the outrageous  Carnival (not officially gay but very gay-looking) every summer (February/March), where everyone it seems loves to dress up in drag in flowers, boas and flamboyant costumes and march along the beautiful white sand beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. All this in addition to the soaring rock mountains that loom over the city offer a stunning visual landscape unequaled by any city in the world. Carnival and Gay Pride happen separately but equally outrageous. If an analysis were made of the two events one would find they are both highly mixed–Brazilians love festivals, gay straight or in-between.

The huge Rio Pride Parade (photo right) happens in October 2011. It goes from one end of Copacabana Beach to the other, about 4 kms. As in Sao Paulo, there are floats from many dance clubs usually populated by a colorful mix of drag queens, go-go boys and girls, and other festive-minded people. Despite all the parties, dancing, concerts and private reveling, the main attractions are definitely on the streets. The parade includes everyone from Rio de Janeiro’s society, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgendered, their friends and families, happy straights, government officials, celebrities–just about anyone who is gay friendly.

That said, Rio is not a gay setting where same-sex couples usually fall over themselves on street corners. More realistically, the LGBT scene is calm and discreet (and on occasion dangerous, as it was for 14-year old Alexandre Thomé Ivo Rajão who was tortured and murdered on June, 23, 2010, in São Gonçalo district in the city in a homophobic attack.

The beach scene is mostly confined (for curious tourists) to two distinct areas, one on Ipanema beach (photo left) one on Copacabana beach. Both are easily distinguished by visible rainbow flags. But don’t expect exclusive rights of way even here. Brazil’s well-educated middle class is comfortably tolerant so mom and dad may decide to park the family in the middle of the gay areas for the day without second thoughts. It’s a comfortable mix both ways.

My partner and I also parked ourselves for several beautiful days in April under partly sunny skies and felt the expansive ease of letting out a deep breath on these magnificent beaches that seem to go on for miles–actually they do. If you like food and like to people watch, this is the place–including guys in little Speedos (called sungas–pronounced ‘soon-gas’–the Brazilian version of Speedos) and gals in itsy-bitsy bikinis. “Yes, men wear Speedos around here. Some walk to the beach in baggy surfer’s trunks to avoid the ‘overexposure’ on the way, some not. But once they find their friends and choose a place to stay, off with their trunks! The reason? To keep a sexy tan line, of course,” says Rio Gay Guide. (photo right)

Also see the visually pleasing YouTube video ‘Come Live the Rio Sensation’ produced by the City Hall of Rio.

On weekends the parallel beachfront streets are closed to traffic making these the longest pedestrian avenues in the world for skate boarders, joggers, young and old walkers, wheelchairs, dog-walkers, vendors selling Brazilian chachkas, buff guys in briefs in an endless wondrous parade of human varieties, including Muslim women in full black purda.

The major LGBT player in Rio is Arco-Iris which organizes the Pride Parade and its associated week-long events. Arco-Iris was started in 1993 and has a mission similar to Sao Paulo’s Parade, to fight for a more just and inclusive society with equal rights for all. The Group is also one of the founders of the Brazilian Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (ABGLT) headed by Toni Reis in Curitiba (see below). Arco-Iris efforts have resulted in passage of state and city (not federal, yet) laws that extend pension rights of domestic partners as well as impose penalties for discriminatory practices on grounds of sexual orientation in commercial establishments and public agencies. Throughout the year  Arco-Iris also carries out various activities, parties, soirees, fairs, seminars, research, culminating in the parade.  See the Parade website

Another ‘First’: Gay Parade in Rocinha Favela

On October 2010 another historic gay ‘first’ happened in an unexpected place: the first Gay Pride parade in the favela (slum) area of Rio called Rocinha. Given how Christian conservative are the residents of the favelas this was a truly a groundbreaking. Read the full blog story plus photos here submitted by Jim and Luis who were there at this unique event: qualidadedevida-jim.blogspot.com/2010/10/gay-pride-parade-in-rocinha.html

Away from the Beach

Inland from the tourist beaches and hotels is the ‘real’ Rio where state and city commerce, governance and social work goes on quietly every day in tall office buildings, streets and in malls. Rio’s Centro district is where the city-and-state-sponsored Superintendency of the Rights of Individuals and Collective Diversity (SDICD) has it offices. It occupies nearly the whole space on the 6th floor of city hall (shared with the offices of The Superintendency  of Women’s Rights and the Secretariat for Social and Human Rights).

After talking my way through security without a badge and wearing forbidden short pants, I was escorted upstairs and introduced to two English-speaking staff members, Majorie (a trans woman) and Gerson (a gay man) of SDICD (photo left). They took me to a private office and offered me water, a description of their department and loaded me up with some of their many outreach materials. SDICD is an official government office (the first in Brazil) specifically targeting LGBT and HIV issues with educational seminars, training seminars and awareness workshops to other government agencies including law enforcement and schools at all levels.

During the year they present outreach and programs on behalf of lesbians, trans people, gays, HIV prevention and awareness, youth, human rights, diversity and more. The number of programs is very impressive for a first-time visitor. One of the most visible programs of SDICD is their ‘Rio Sem Homophobia‘ (Rio Without Homophobia) a highly visible outreach publicity effort to reduce homophobia across the city and state with posters, billboards, media ads and public seminars to inform the public about discrimination, respect and rights.

The agency, with a staff of 80, is headed by the well-know gay activist Claudio Nascimento who also sits on the board of Arco-Iris . He has been a pioneer in the drive (in the courts) to legalize civil unions for same sex couples, with himself and his partner as one of the plaintiffs. Over the past twenty years Claudio has worked to combat violence and discrimination against LGBT people, focusing on community mobilization and advocacy aimed at building an agenda for LGBT rights and public policies that work to improve the quality of life in the population. He was one of the organizers of the federal government program ‘Brazil Without Homophobia‘, launched by the Lula government in 2004.

Curitiba: David and Toni vs Goliath

Curitiba city (population 1.7 m) is the capital of the rugged  farm-filled state of Parana, home to the famous Iguacu Falls. It’s an eclectic city in various ways, with a hodgepodge mix of architecture–old Euro-colonial, ugly functional 70s, art dec, sleek 90s. The most famous edifice is the eye-shaped art museum designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer, father of modern Brazilian architecture.

The bustling city is also home to the LGBT national organization called ABGLT Brazil–Brazilian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transexual Association. I was cheerfully greeted at the front desk by Sabrina, a cute trans volunteer (photo right), who showed me the large library and archives. The association was started in 1995 by 31 founding member groups and is a non-governmental, non-profit ‘umbrella collective’ of 237 organizations in Brazil, of which 176 are gay-lesbian-bi-trans groups. The remaining 61 are “collaborating” organizations. ABGLT is the largest GLBT network in Latin America whose aim is to defend the rights of LGBTs, prevent prejudice and discrimination and press for equality.

Two of the leaders in ABGLT became involved in the gay rights struggle as a result of their own personal combat with the politico-legal system in Brazil. Toni Reis, Brazilian and now president of ABGLT, and David Harrad, British, became a couple in London before they decided to settle in Brazil. It was fairly easy for David to enter Brazil–as a tourist. But when his visa expired they applied for spousal status of permanent resident, as any heterosexual couple is entitled to do. They were denied and David faced deportation.

Sitting at lunch recently with David in central Curitiba city, I listened as he described how they turned to the courts for remedy. Since their case was the first to challenge the discriminatory immigration laws they attracted media attention (TV, newspapers, internet) and they did not shy away. Amid the flurry of publicity, protests and rallies they won a court ruling and David is now living with Toni permanently in Curitiba.

David said the decision was issued on November 25, 2003 by Brazilian judge Ana Carolina Morozowski of the 5th Civil Court of Curitiba. “She authenticated the same-sex relationship of Toni with David and granted David permanent residency in Brazil. As a result, the National Immigration Council had to  change the criteria for the ‘concession of temporary or permanent visa, or of definitive permanence to the male or female partner, without distinction of sex.'” Read background story on their pursuit of equality.

More recently, they were among the very first couples in the country to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision of May 5, 2011 (recognizing the legal status of same-sex partners). The two men held a wedding ceremony in Curitiba on May 9, 2011. (photo left) But not without some delay. They were forced to visit four different notary registries in the city of Curitiba until they found one that would officiate their union.  Some notaries were unsure about when the court ruling became effective. (It was immediate.) Toni’s and David’s official status will also make it easier for the two men to adopt children, something they’ve been working toward since 2005.

After the wedding, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a long-time gay rights supporter, called to congratulate them, according to the Global Post. (http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/bric-yard/brazil-hurdles-civil-unions)

I was struck by how the courts in Brazil seem to be a major grantor of gay rights here. David responded that, indeed, the legality of their union was made possible by the courts (versus the legislature). “Social justice has been a priority of the courts, for the most part, more so than moral or religious concerns–which hobble the congress–when it comes to legal protections of non-traditional relationships. Thankfully there is a history here of independent judiciary. This has ensured, slowly, legal protections for domestic cohabitants.”

Further readings on Brazilian Courts and Social Inclusiveness: Same-Sex Couples: http://www.drclas.harvard.edu/revista/articles/view/967

Grupo Dignidad in Curitiba

ABGLT offices are shared with the Grupo Dignidade (Dignity Group) in central Curitiba. Dignity’s ultimate goal is (1) to advocate for laws that promote and defend the rights of LGBT as well as (2) develop public policies that are GLBT affirmative and (3) to contribute to social changes that can reduce prejudice and discrimination against this segment of society.

Dignity believes that access to information about homosexuality and related cultural LGBT events, as well as the educational process that follows from it, is a way of supporting positive change of attitudes. On their website, they state, “the Documentation Center at the office, named in honor of activist leader Prof. Dr. Luiz Mott (photo right; also see below under Salvador), offers a wealth of printed and digital materials that have been produced and collected by Dignity since its foundation, with respect to GLBT issues, AIDS, sex education and other related topics.

In partnership with the Ministry of Culture, the collection was organized and expanded, becoming available for consultation at the office and through the Internet.” They also present artistic exhibitions and theatre productions to publicize their message as well as conduct training sessions to present the group’s education programs.

Other groups affiliated with LGBT rights and education are Dom da Terra, APPDA-Parana Association for Diversity Parade, Transgrupo, Red Trans- National Network of Trans People, Artemis and CEPAC-Parana Center for Citizenship.

There is a LGBT lifestyle online magazine called ‘Lado-A’ for Curitiba, Florianopolis and Porto Alegre with listings of events, venues and style for the entire country, including dates for the Carnival week.

Andreas

Not everyone I visited in Brazil was an activist or a public figure. Most LGBT people in Brazil are neither. In Curitiba I had dinner one evening at an expansive renovated train station now a gleaming shopping mall called Estation Shopping. My host was Andreas, a calm, middle-aged gay teacher with whom I had corresponded for a few months before arriving in Brazil. We did not talk about gay rights, civli unions, or LGBT organizations although he was aware and appreciative of Toni’s and David’s pioneering efforts. Our conversation ranged over a wide spectrum of thought and description such as the history of immigration into Brazil (Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Swiss, Scandinavian, northern Italians, etc) and how these cultures influenced Curitiba’s culture (inhibited emotions, efficient business, organized thinking, mind-your-own-affairs social mode, conservative Catholic/Protestant standards).

Behind the appearance of a prosperous, neat and orderly city (photo left: Niemeyer Art Museum) with parks and its own modest Carnival at the beach an hour away via car in Paranagua, Andreas said there is a veil of silence about anything controversial such as incidents of skinhead hostility against gays, a recent spike in youth suicides or religious scandals. (Andreas was raised–and still is–a Baptist: “my sexuality is between me and God.”)

Curiously, said Andreas, although Brazil speaks the Portuguese language, most Brazilians know little about the culture of Portugal. More familiar are the German/Austrian cultures. The mother of the first emperor of Brazil. Pedro I was Austrian and his father was Spanish. Subsequent immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries brought very few Portuguese and many more central and northern Europeans.

Andreas’ father died before his birth so his mother raised him, an only child. As he grew into adolescence he discovered his ‘difference’ and spent endless hours trying to pray it away but over the years, he said, he has steered into a calm self-acceptance, neither rejecting nor trying to fit in with the gay scene. “I became mentally strong and well educated to take my profession (he teaches grammar school children). I don’t identify with ‘noisy gays’ and almost all my friends (who ‘know’) are not gay. Although I am open to a possible relationship I don’t ‘look for it. You could d say I’m not in the closet but in the freezer,” he said with a laugh.  It was a pleasant evening with this thoughtful, serious and compassionate man.

Florianopolis

On my first day in Florianopolis (Floripa) I rang up one of the lesbian couples on the front lines of LGBT rights in that city, Marta Dalla Chiesa and her long-term partner Leslie, who own and operate a travel agency called EcoJourneys. We met at a local cafe along the beach strand in their tiny picturesque village of Pantano do Sul on the very south of the Ilha (island) de Santa Caterina, where Floripa is the largest city and capital of the state of Santa Catarina.

Over plates of seafood and fries, Marta and Leslie spoke about their serendipitous journey over the past two decades. from London to Floripa. They are unusual in having twenty years together: “Lesbian relationships don’t seem to last as long here as gay guys,” said Marta. “Perhaps because lesbians do serial monogamy. They are faithful until they are not, which may be two or three or five years. Once they stop monogamy, it’s over. The guys are more open with affairs since sex and intimacy are separable and flings are not deal breakers.”

Because Leslie is British born, she and Marta were also pioneers in challenging the unfair immigration laws, before Toni and David. (Their cases were separately decided on different technical issues.) They were successful after prolonged legal maneuvers in gaining permanent resident status for Leslie.

The two women originally met in London while studying art at university. Leslie still gets a chuckle out of the sudden–wondrous and adventurous–turn of her life at meeting Marta. They lived together for several years in London with yearly trips to southern Brazil to visit Marta’s family and explore the region.

Finally they decided to chuck big city life and come to live in the tiny village of Pantano do Sul (photo right with Michael) where life slows down to beach walks, local fish markets and neighborhood cafes along the azure blue water. Since there is limited commercial opportunity in the seaside area sufficient to support two independent lives and a cat they started their own tourist enterprise, EcoJourneys, and are now busy most days with organizing tours and arranging for clients to see the wonders of southern Brazil. Cell phone and internet services are available all over the island so they are in constant contact with clients.

The city of Florianopolis has been called a ‘gay destination‘ but that is misleading since the city is much too large, a megapolis of over 400,000, that swallows up the tiny LGBT community, both local and foreign. The popular (non-gay) Carnival happens every February/March, attracting nearly a million celebrants who all look ‘tres gay’ during the week of flourishing events culminating in the huge colorful, musical and brash parade where rainbow colors, among others, fly. The gay Pride Parade is mounted here in September in another flourish of color, music, dance, drink and celebration.

After the crowds disperse, Floripa gay life calms down to its half dozen bars, gay-friendly cafes and restaurants–and the beach.

No LGBT trip to Floripa is complete without a trip to the gay section of Praia Mole beach on the Atlantic east coast (see Ecojourneys’ page about Mola). Getting there is a small nightmare in the summer and weekends with long traffic lines crawling along inadequate narrow two-lane roads. Nevertheless, Brazilians love their beaches and the entire 1 km long Mola beach is no exception. By early afternoon the blizzard of colorful umbrellas extends the full length. The inviting blue water with moderate waves is clean and refreshing. Snack bars offer food and beverages. The white sand is thick and fluffy.

At the north end is a huge outcropping of smooth rocks looking like massive beached whales. Adjacent to these is the Bar do Deca, the gay-owned bar/cafe with it distinctive yellow tables and chairs which increase as the day goes on, filled with Speedo-clad boys and bikini-clad girls. (Some of whom should not be in public in tiny togs!) As with other ‘gay beaches’ in Brazil, Mola Beach is also somewhat mixed since many straight folks are so gay-friendly they hardly notice the gay folks; the guys wear sungas swim suits and the gals wear string bikinis. There is plenty of eye-candy for all.

The main LGBT activist group here is Grupo Dignidade , mentioned above, which offers comprehensive legal, psychological and social services to LGBT people.

The Rest of Brazil

Gay life in Brazil is hardly confined to these high profile cities. In fact there are almost 30 other cities that have Pride Parades between June and November. Some of these cities (Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Natal) have a population of well over a million people. Of these, Salvador is worthy of special mention here since it is home to Brazil’s first and largest LGBT rights organization.

Salvador

San Paulo may be huge with its giant parade, Rio may be spectacular with its fab beaches, but the powerhouse of LGBT rights and politics is in Salvador, twelve hundred miles up the coast of Brazil from Sao Paulo (one thousand from Rio).

Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Salvador on this trip. Brazil is a very large country, the size of the USA. For any writer it would take numerous trips, at least, and many more interviews to tell the complete story of ‘gay Brazil’. The following is a small summary of comments about gay activity in Salvador.

This city of two and a half million people is home to the oldest LGBT advocacy association in Brazil, the Grupo Gay da Bahia (Gay Group of Bahia), founded in 1980 by Luiz Mott (photo above) and others concerned about the lack of respect and rights for LGBT people in Brazil.  In 1983 Grupo was registered as a non-profit organization and is today a member of major international LGBT associations as well as the Brazilian ABGLT, mentioned above. Luis is a researcher, an anthropologist, a historian and one of the most notable gay civil rights activists in Brazil. His body of work is extensive, most notably in his research about homosexuality both historically and in modern times. He has often appeared in the media in interviews, at commemorations and rights demonstrations. Currently, he is also professor emeritus of the Department of Anthropology of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).

On the Grupo website it says, “since 1989, it has been a member of the Ministry of Heath’s National Commission to Control AIDS, and since 1995 it has been one of the coordinators of the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transvestites. The GGB was directly responsible for the foundation of several groups in defense of the human rights of homosexuals in other states of Brazil.

“it provides a meeting space for the Lesbian Group of Bahia, the Association of Transvestites of Salvador, and the Anti-AIDS Center of Bahia, entities which are allied with yet independent from the GGB. In 1985, the GGB promoted the Third Conference of the Brazilian Homosexual Movement, and in 1994 the Sixth Conference of Brazilian AIDS NGO’s. The group publishes a Bulletin two or three times a year, and has produced two dozen pamphlets and booklets about homosexuality and AIDS.” Marcelo Cerqueira is the current president of the GGB. Also GGB has been instrumental in developing programs to educate the local population on HIV and AIDS prevention; as a result, the city has one of the lowest rates of HIV infections per capita in Brazil.

Comments about gay Salvador

“Just like any major metropolitan area, Salvador has a very active gay life: most homosexuals from smaller cities move here because  they find refuge in the big city. However, there are differences. For starters, gays are a lot more socially mixed amongst straight people: there is mutual respect from  neighbors and co-workers. This all means that you can be as gay as you want and you won’t get teased or criticized. There isn’t a big gay residential neighborhood although the Barra area does have a gay block with some bars and clubs .” Surprisingly, there are seven men’s saunas here! Salvador’s gay pride parade is now one of the largest in Brazil where approximately 800,000 people attended in 2010.

The Public Defender of the State of Bahia, located in many cities of the state is publicly committed to fighting discrimination any account–race, color, sexual orientation or religious orientation. The city offers many LGBT options: night clubs, mens saunas, bars, beaches and the annual LGBT event Hell & Heaven is one of the largest LGBT events in Brazil. From: http://www.salvadorforpartiers.com/gay/gay-salvador