Trans representation in Brazil

Leonardo Sakamoto writes about the elections of two trans champions to  Brazil's parliament.

Flying the flag in Brazil's National Congress. 
Antonio Cruz/ABr

Lula’s return to power is not the only change in Brazilian politics for 2023. For the first time we will have two trans women in parliament. This is remarkable because we are the country that, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring platform, killed the most trans people between 2008 and 2022.

The new electees are activist Erika Hilton of the Socialism and Freedom Party, who was already a city councillor in São Paulo and chaired the first parliamentary investigation committee on transphobia there. And literature teacher Duda Salabert of the Democratic Labour Party, who was previously elected as a city councillor in Belo Horizonte with the highest ever recorded number of votes.

Reflecting on their victory, Hilton says: ‘I think it’s very important that the world’s most lethal country for transgender people and transvestites – where they are killed in the most cowardly and cruel ways – elected representatives who can expose this reality and transform people’s mentality based on our actions, and through public policies.’

For her, the image and presence of both congresswomen will also represent a break in the silence and anonymity imposed on LGBTQI+ bodies in Congress, an institution riddled with machismo.

Salabert points out how transgender people are denied employment options beyond sex work and have abysmal access to education. ‘It’s because we have never been on the agendas of the Right, the Left or the Centre. Having transgender people in Congress is something new, and it can give visibility to a harsh reality that has been historically erased,’ she says.

She wants to develop four major policy areas to bring about change: improving employment options so that transgender and transvestite people do not have to resort to prostitution; a housing programme, as many trans people are thrown out of the family home, often at a young age; a public safety programme; and in-depth classroom discussion of gender to raise awareness and create respect for diversity.

‘But, before all that, it is worth remembering that we, transvestites and transsexuals, have not yet achieved the status of humanity,’ she adds. ‘If you ask what the main agenda of the transgender movement in Brazil is today, they’ll tell you that it’s respect for people’s names, identities, access to the toilets.’

Erika Hilton argues that there is a need for safe spaces in order to protect lives, including within police stations, with staff trained to listen sympathetically to trans people.

In February 2019, the Supreme Court found that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was a crime. Acts of hate can be punished with up to five years in prison.

Hilton is all for official action on LGBTphobia, with more severe punishment, but feels that is not enough. ‘We must transform society’s views and include transgender and transvestite people, so that everyone can live in harmony,’ she says. ‘Then violence will be fought at its deepest roots.

‘This is a medium- and long-term process. In the short term, if Congress acknowledges that hatred against trans people is deeply rooted in Brazil, we’ll have taken a first big step.’