Brazil: Police Harassment Of Transvestites, Death Threats Against Human Rights Defender

Support May 2, 2002 Rally Against Homophobia and For the Human Rights of Homosexuals!


After campaigning several years for the human rights of transvestites sex workers -who face disturbing patterns of murders, discrimination, and neglect in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil- gay activist Jose Dantas, President of local non-governmental organization Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar (GHAP), received a death threat on April 27, 2002. Local activists are now organizing to demand not only protection for Mr. Dantas but also an end to the abuses suffered by transvestites and female sex workers in Rio Grande do Norte.


IGLHRC and Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar (GHAP) ask for letters to the Governor -with copies notifying local media- demanding protection for the threatened activist and a cease to police harassment against transvestites.

Please write to:

Doutor Fernando Antônio da Câmara Freire
Governador do Estado do Rio Grande do Norte
Governadoria - Centro Administrativo - Br 101
Natal - RN - 59059-900
Fax.: (55 84) 206-4752
E-mail :
Local media:
Jornal Diário de Natal
Fax: (55) 84-211-8386
Jornal Tribuna do Norte
Fax: (55) 84-221-3374
E-mail :
Jornal de Hoje
Fax : (55) 84-211-0070
E-mail :
TV Ponta Negra
Fax : (55) 84-213-6638
E-mail :
TV Tropical
Fax: (55) 84-211-6507
TV Cabugi
Fax: (55) 84-206-2588
E-mail :

And please send a copy to

Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar


Dear Sir,

We write to you to express our concern for the death threat against Mr. Jose Dantas, president of Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar, received during a TV program on April 27, 2002.

As a human rights defender who works for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population in Rio Grande do Norte, Mr. Dantas is entitled to the protection of the State. We demand an immediate investigation into the threats and we urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure Mr. Dantas' safety as well as that of the other members of Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar.

The population that Mr. Dantas defends is the target of severe abuse in Rio Grande do Norte. Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar has documented murders and police abuse against gay men, lesbians and transvestites in the state. It has also documented discrimination in the work place and lack of access to education and health services provided by the State.

Next Thursday, May 2, 2002, Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar will try to meet with you. We urge you to listen to them and to review the documents they will bring to your attention. They have proposals for working together with your administration towards ending discrimination and violence affecting gay men, lesbians and transvestites in Rio Grande do Norte. The problems you and them are facing are not to be solved by the use of force; they are social problems, arising from exclusion and lack of equality.

Your mandate obligates you to ensure that the human rights of all are respected. You are also bound by the Brazilian Constitution -which offers protection from discrimination in the enjoyment of all fundamental rights and freedoms -as well as international human rights treaties ratified by Brazil.

We encourage you to fulfill your obligations and serve your people, with openness and a will for cooperation.



On April 27, 2002, at 1.30 pm, the President of Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar (a non-governmental organization working with lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender people, and sex workers), Jose Dantas, was interviewed by the TV program "Tropical Comunidade". An unidentified person phoned the station with a message for Mr. Dantas. He had better stop defending transvestites, it threatened: if not, "White Hand" might be back. "White Hand" was a death squad active in Natal, the capital of Rio Grande do Norte, some time ago. They targeted homosexuals, transvestites, Blacks and poor people. Often linked to Neo-Nazi groups, death squads are a constant danger in Brazil - they have been responsible for some murders, like that of bisexual city councilor Jose Renildo dos Santos (1999) or gay man Edson Neris da Silva (2000).

GHAP has been advocating for transvestites rights for some time, but their demands have grown more vocal in the last two weeks. On April 10, 2002, the Public Prosecutor Office and the city Police in Natal came to an agreement about prosecuting transvestites sex workers who took off their clothes while working at Engenheiro Roberto Freire Avenue -in the area known as Ponta Negra street. Mr. Paulo Roberto Dantas de Souza Leao, head of the Office, explained that those actions were not intended to discriminate against transvestites or female sex workers but to answer complaints to his office and to the police station about nudity in the streets. Two new officers were assigned to the task of policing the area and arresting those transvestites or women who were showing off "their intimate parts".

GHAP considered the operative motivated by "the authorities' fake morality" and not by a genuine intention to fight against denounced obscene exhibitions. GHAP agrees with the Prosecutor Office that transvestites and sex workers should not take their clothes off to attract customers in the street. But the organization suggested that, instead of implementing a repressive operation carried by armed policemen, the Prosecutor Office should come together with social organizations working on the issue to provide orientation to transvestite sex workers. According to GHAP's President Jose Dantas, most transvestites working at Estrada de Ponta Negra are almost illiterate and are "cruelly" discriminated against at all levels. "To bring the police against them will be still another torture, and will not solve the problem", said Mr. Dantas.

Wilson Dantas (brother of Jose, and Event Coordinator for GHAP) denounced that transvestites at Ponta Negra are being victimized by people who pass by in their cars and throw stones and other objects at them. He also pointed out that transvestites are usually expelled from their homes at an early age and then "there are only three professions available to them: domestic servants, beauticians or sex workers". GHAP has submitted different projects to the city and state governments for education and work training of transvestites, to no avail. On the other hand, the Federal government has recently approved funds for a an educational program aimed at transvestites and coordinated by GHAP.

Jose Dantas also pointed out that there are "obscene exhibitions" happening at other areas in the city that go unnoticed because those who commit them are heterosexuals. He mentioned "Praia do Meio" and the statue of Iemanjá as two locations where people engage in masturbation and nudity, unmolested by the Prosecutor Office or the police.

GHAP has also documented the homophobia-motivated murders of some transvestites and gay men in the state of Rio Grande do Norte.

On May 2, 2002, GHAP will organize a Rally Against Homophobia and For the Human Rights of Homosexuals, in front of the Governor's offices. During the rally, GHAP will ask for a meeting with Governor Freire. The goals for that meeting are:

  • To deliver a dossier on documented gay murder in the state
  • To discuss public policies for gay inclusion in the job market
  • To sign an agreement for providing human rights and sexual diversity training to civil and military police.
  • To sign an agreement for a work-training project aimed at transvestites and sex workers

There is a relationship already established between Grupo Habeas Corpus Potiguar and some governmental agencies, in a common effort to promote visibility for lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people, as well as to protect some of their rights. For instance, the State Secretary of Health will financially support this year's Pride Parade, organized by GHAP. The Secretary is already funding three programs run by GHAP on health education and disease prevention.

Also, on April 25-26, 2002, GHAP organized the First Seminar on Human Rights and Citizenship for Gays, Lesbians and Transvestites, at the Natal City Council. Public officers, academics and activists spoke at the different panels. The Seminar was attended by 275 people and considered a success by the organizers.

In The Law

The Brazilian Constitution protects the right to equality before the law and affirms the rights to "life, freedom, equality, safety…" (Article 5). It also states that "any discrimination that attacks human rights and fundamental freedoms will be punishable by law (Article 5. 41). It also protects the rights to "health, education, work…" (Article 6).

Right to equality and non discrimination is protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR, Articles 1,2 and 7), by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, Articles 2 and 26), by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, Article 2) and by the Interamerican Human Rights Convention (IHRC, Article 1.1 and 24).

Right to life is protected by the UDHR (Article 3), ICCPR (Article 6) and IHRC (Article 4).

Right to be free from arbitrary arrest is protected by the UDHR (Article 9), ICCPR (Article 9) and IHRC (Article 7).

Right to work is protected by the UDHR (Article 23) and ICESC (Article 7)

Right to education is protected by the UDHR (Article 25) and ICESC (Article 13).