One step closer. Criminalization of homophobia and transphobia in Brazil.

“He was a demon, I ripped out his heart. That’s it.” That sentence was said by Caio Santos de Oliveira, 20, who murdered Quelly da Silva, a 35-year-old trans woman in Campinas, São Paulo, on January 20, 2019. He said he removed the victim’s heart and replaced it with a saint statue and kept the body in his house, as well as having stolen her belongings. Yet, despite the levels of cruelty, and clear transphobia, the case is being treated as homicide, not as transfeminicide.[1] The decision of Brazil’s Supreme Court, made on Friday, May 24, 2019, to criminalize homophobia and transphobia, should be a step in the right direction to avoid such miscarriages of justice in the future. But not the only step.

According to data compiled by the NGO Transgender Europe, Brazil ranks first in the world in terms of violence against trans people. According to the International LGBTI Association (ILGA World), many more LGBTIQ people are killed in Brazil than in countries in the Middle East and Africa, where there are countries in which the death penalty can be applied for those convicted of same-sex relations. Every 20 hours an LGBTIQ person is brutally murdered because of LGBTIQ-phobia in Brazil, leading, for example, to the fall in the average life expectancy of trans people from 75 years of age (average life expectancy in Brazil) to 35 years, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This concerning reality means that the right to truth, justice and reparation is extremely important right now for LGBTIQ people in the Brazilian context. As such, the decision of the Supreme Court of Brazil on criminalization of homophobia and transphobia, is certainly an extremely welcome one. LGBTIQ-phobic crimes and violence must be identified, investigated and punished in order to achieve progress and change mindsets. Criminalization is an instrument for not just that, but also for generating data and information on LGBTIQ-phobic crimes, which can, in turn, further inform and support efforts to tackle them. Especially at this time when both verbal and physical attacks on LGBTIQ people are increasing considerably in Brazil, including due to the influences of some LGBTIQ-phobic statements of the current Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro.

At the same time it is very important to emphasize that penal criminalization of LGBTIQ-phobia should not be the last and only response in addressing LGBTIQ-phobic violence and aggression in Brazil. As we know, the LGBTIQ population, especially the trans and intersex population, is still at alarming levels of marginality and vulnerability in Brazil. Therefore, in addition to the criminalization of LGBTIQ-phobia, it is very important that specific and qualified public policies for the LGBTIQ community in the areas of health, education, work, employability, housing and culture are considered, created and implemented.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that law enforcement in Brazil, as in many other countries in the world, is very much based on racial profiling. Which means that the majority of the people convicted in the Brazilian penal system are black or brown. That is, although penal criminalization is considered necessary at the present time by some LGBTIQ civil society groups, due to the high number of LGBTIQ deaths, it will not be effective in identifying or punishing all perpetrators, and therefore must be viewed with caution.

It is great to see any steps taken to tackle the waves of phobia towards LGBTIQ people in Brazil, especially in light of increasing hate spouted by our own president. This provides at least one avenue for victims of hateful crimes to pursue in search of justice. But, it is not the be-all and end-all. I believe public policies that focus on the empowerment and emancipation of LGBTIQ people, along with educational campaigns for the cis-straight population can be more effective than the increase of the population deprived of liberty.


Lua Da Mota Stabile is an OutRight Action International religion fellow and the Director of Institutional and International Relations of the Libertarian Union of Travesti and Trans Women. Lua is a Brazilian trans feminist and activist who identifies as "Travesti" and transgender woman. She has been working and fighting for the human rights of LGBTI people since 2014.