Dissident sexualities in the Brazilian military dictatorship: brief history of repression and resistance of the LGBT movement

June 23, 2021

The exaltation of the Brazilian dictatorial period by the Bolsonaro government demonstrates the extreme need to continue the discussions and debates about human and fundamental rights that are continuously and increasingly attacked by the political practices of the president and his allies.

In the month of LGBT pride, there are still many deadlocks so that we can, in fact, celebrate such experiences in Brazil. Religious fanaticism, attacks on democratic institutions and the rise of a fierce conservatism are the foundations that sustain a retrograde mentality in a large part of the Brazilian people. Although the criminalization of LGBTphobia was an advance, it is still necessary to implement measures that also transmit the fight against intolerance into concrete reality.

In this sense, it is worth remembering the trajectory of a group that played a fundamental role in the political and social struggle during the military dictatorship, and that also contributed to the process of redemocratization of the country. Remembering this history is extremely significant for the establishment of a political position that is structured on the recognition of the importance of the conquest and maintenance of rights, an essential point to combat the current government.

Military Dictatorship and Repression

The military dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985) was established after a series of intertwined events that culminated in the coup d’état that deposed President João Goulart on March 31, 1964. The authoritarian regime was classified as necessary by these groups to prevent the supposed advance of communism in the country, represented by João Goulart’s popular reforms.

From this scenario, a military junta took power in the country, beginning a period of Brazilian history marked by repression of freedom of expression and of political and social rights, in addition to intense persecution of those who dared to oppose the authoritarian regime or the ideals defended by its supporters. Thus, any individual who excluded themselves from heteronormative standards was violently repressed – censorship, arbitrary imprisonment, and torture were just some of the strategies used by the military government to repress these social groups. Authoritarian government practices shaped from conservatism and moralization were responsible for spreading the idea that degenerative behavior was associated with LGBT people, enemies of the state and of the political order under the focus of surveillance and suspicion by the regime. Despite the repression of the LGBT population by the state, forms of resistance emerged that marked the history of the community in Brazil and should be mentioned.

Resistance, struggle and growth of the LGBT movement

From the 1960s on, the LGBT movement began to mobilize in defense of its recognition and rights and against the prejudice and oppression of the civil-military dictatorship. Ney Matogrosso and the musical groups Secos & Molhados and Dzi Croquettes, as well as other artists, appeared on stage wearing clothes considered feminine and put the male and female roles to the public for reflection.

The alternative press also played an important role in opposing the dictatorship, being a space of resistance that denounced the abuses that were committed by the military government. In this space, the newspaper Lampião da Esquina appeared representing the LGBT population.

Lampião da Esquina was a newspaper aimed at the LGBT public that circulated from 1978 until the early 1980s, addressing issues related to sexuality, politics, culture, and denunciations against homosexual violence practiced by the military regime. The newspaper aimed to inform and rescue “the fact that homosexuals are human beings and that, therefore, they have every right to fight for their full realization as such”.

This type of press suffered from censorship and persecution due to its criticism of the military period. In addition, for the regime, any principle that deviated from their conservative concepts and what they considered “moral” could be the target of reprisals and censorship. For this reason, Lampião da Esquina, as an alternative press newspaper, with alternative content to that considered “adequate” by the regime, was accused of attacking morals and good customs, and included in the Press Law.

Besides Lampião, the group SOMOS: Grupo de Afirmação Homossexual (Homosexual Affirmation Group), marked the LGBT resistance, being the first politicized organization of gays and lesbians in Brazil. Founded in 1978, Somos was the first Brazilian collective that aimed to defend the rights of the LGBT community in all areas of social life. The group promoted personal awareness, strengthened identity based on data and experiences, did research and activism, bridging the gap between the group and external situations, people, and entities.

The Feminist Lesbian Action Group (GALF) also made history in LGBT resistance in the military period. GALF held the first Brazilian lesbian demonstration, which took place in 1983. In July of the same year, activists from the group were selling the Chana com Chana bulletin – Brazil’s lesbian activist publication – inside the bar known as Ferro’s, the main meeting place for lesbians. The owner wanted to expel them, forbidding them to sell the bulletins. For the next two months they faced resistance and threats from the doorman who tried to remove them. So the lesbians decided to take back Ferro’s Bar and scheduled this political action for the night of August 19th of the same year. The date was marked as National Lesbian Pride Day.

During the final stages of the military dictatorship, a certain episode caused quite a commotion among the population and the LGBT community. There was an intensification of ostensive policing patrols in the central area of São Paulo, under the command of Police Station Chief José Wilson Richetti. These patrols aimed to “clean” the central area of the presence of prostitutes, transvestites and homosexuals.

The Brazil’s Order of Attorneys expressed itself through the Folha de São Paulo, forming a commission of councilors to elaborate a note of repudiation to the police violence practiced under the command of delegate Wilson Richetti. Lampião also brought texts denouncing the delegate’s repression. Thus, on July 13, 1980, in front of the Municipal Theater, there was a public act that brought together social movements, such as the LGBT, women’s, student, and black movements, against Richetti’s police violence. In an open letter to the population, signed by 13 entities, they asked for Richetti’s dismissal from the command of the Sectional Police Station. According to the report of the Truth Commission, this was the first major political mobilization of the Brazilian LGBT movement, being the precursor of the LGBT Pride Parade.

The National Truth Commission

Truth Commissions are established by the State, in periods of political transition, to investigate situations of human rights violations that occurred in its territory. They seek to analyze the circumstances in which these attacks took place, unveiling the facts that, many times, were covered up or distorted by the State itself.  In this way, as part of the Transitional Justice axis, the objective is to recognize, repair, and protect these victims from future rights violations and to avoid the rise of new authoritarian governments, by preparing reports and recommendations, with suggestions for institutional reforms, constitutional revisions, and the creation of instruments for the consolidation of democracy.

In Brazil, the creation of the NLC occurred with the preparation of a Bill by the Federal Government that was sent by President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva to the National Congress, with the consequent promulgation of Law 12528/2011 on November 18, 2011. On May 16, 2012, the Commission was appointed with the function of investigating and clarifying the atrocities committed by the military governments against human rights that occurred between 1946 and 1988.

However, the investigations, initially, were not directly concerned with encompassing the movements of social minorities linked to the LGBT community, so that the forms of resistance carried out by movements representing this segment, were not recurrent in the work of Memory and Justice in Brazil.  It was only after the 98th public hearing of the São Paulo State Truth Commission “Rubens Paiva” (São Paulo CEV), on November 26, 2013, with the theme “Dictatorship and homosexuality: resistance of the LGBT movement” that discussions about the repression of LGBT people during this authoritarian regime effectively began.

Later, the members of the National Truth Commission held a second hearing, in conjunction with the São Paulo CEV, entitled “Dictatorship and Homosexuality in Brazil”. In partnership with the Memorial of Resistance, this hearing took place on March 29, 2014. With the presence of different sectors of the social movements of human rights and LGBTs, activists who experienced this dictatorial moment and researchers on the subject were responsible for portraying the various forms of repression suffered by this minority and their instruments of resistance.

After these discussions, the National Truth Commission established in its report recommendation 23, specific against discrimination of the LGBT group, which prescribes, among other measures, the criminalization of homolesbotransphobia, reparation to LGBT people persecuted and harmed by the State’s violence, and the need to suppress, in the laws, discriminatory references to this group.

Dissident sexualities are inserted, therefore, in a context of struggle for truth, justice and reparation in relation to the crimes committed during the Brazilian dictatorship, demanding visibility and the due identification of their confrontations during this period. Thus, the role assumed by the National Truth Commission for the visibilization of this community in the reconstruction of the memories of the dictatorship was notable. The CNV’s recognition of the importance of including, in the Memory and Truth work, a focus on the persecution suffered by LGBT people was essential for the insertion, in the official history of the dictatorship, of the violence faced by this segment in light of their sexual orientations and gender identities.

(Italy-Naples,06/08/2018) Movement of the LGBT parade. Photo:Sara Rampazzo

Therefore, remembering this historical period represents the rescue of knowledge necessary for a better Brazilian social-political configuration. The right to Memory and Truth prove to be essential for the conquest of democratic spaces and for a country that, facing its past, reflects on the violations committed so that they will not be repeated again.

It is also possible to notice that the justification of threat containment used in the past still marks our political trajectory. There is and always has been – as history shows – the intention to repress any group that dares to imagine new forms of organization or that subverts the ideals defended by the groups in power. The threat to national security and the viability of Brazil is sometimes linked to leftist groups, sometimes to the LGBT population, for presenting, from Bolsonar’s point of view, a moral dissolution of the country and an attack on good morals. The Brazilian scenario regarding the murder of LGBT people is a symptom of this phenomenon.

In this sense, remembering not only the trajectories cited, but all those who played a significant role in the conquest of rights, should be an indispensable aspect of Brazilian political culture. In the current scenario, more than ever, the fight for equality and for the recognition of democratic institutions and sexual diversities is constant.

Bye Ester Wagner Siqueira [1], Geovane Campos Alves [2] e Raissa Michaela Pereira Costa e Silva [3].

For more information:

[1] Law undergraduate student at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). Volunteer at CJT – UFMG.

[2] Undergraduate student of Law at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Extension fellow at the Center for Transitional Justice Studies (CJT/UFMG).

[3] Undergraduate student of State Sciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). Volunteer at the CJT – UFMG.