For the Canadian Kimahli Powell, executive director of the NGO Rainbow Railroad, Brazil is not a safe enough country for LGBT people.
“Brazil, for example, accepts refugees, but given the climate in relation to LGBT people, we would think a lot before putting someone in the country,” he told Folha via video conference.
The NGO helps LGBT people who have been persecuted in their country to move to places where they will not be attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
On Tuesday (15), a virtual event on LGBT migrants organized by entities from Paraná was interrupted by racist attacks and shouts of “Bolsonaro 2022”.
According to Powell, the government of Jair Bolsonaro is one of the main concerns of the NGO. “When a state agent, be it the police, the government or the head of state, as is the case in Brazil, speaks against LGBT people, it generates persecution,” he said. he declares.
“I would prefer that one of my children die in an accident rather than appear with a mustache around”, declared for example in 2011 the federal deputy of the time.
Powell drew attention to the plight of the Brazilian transgender population, frequently victims of violence and economically vulnerable. “You can have a million people in Gay Pride and still have a part of the community that is the target of persecution.”
The Executive Director was one of the participants in the Forum on LGBTQ2 + Rights, a virtual meeting organized by the Government of Canada this week to discuss the situation of this population in South America.
How does Rainbow Railroad work? We are an international organization based in Canada and also operating in the United States, and our goal is to ensure the safety of LGBT people at risk. We get calls for help every year, we check every case and see if and how we can help.
Our main objective is emergency travel assistance, that is, the resettlement of people to a country where they are not persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In many cases, however, we also help the person relocate to their own country and help with resources to keep them safe.
How are the destination countries chosen? We choose countries where there is an active desire to welcome LGBT immigrants. We are not going to choose a country that accepts refugees but does not have a policy to protect the LGBT population. Brazil, for example, accepts refugees, but given the climate in relation to LGBT people, one would think a lot before putting someone in the country.
What’s wrong with Brazil? We know that in Brazil, trans people are primarily the target of disproportionate violence. You can have a Gay Parade with a million people and still have a part of the community that is the target of persecution. This is reflected in the requests for help that we have. And we are very concerned about Brazil, especially in recent years, with the current administration, which has signaled more aggressive policies against LGBT people.
President Jair Bolsonaro has made homophobic statements on several occasions. In one of them he said he would be unable to love a gay child. What is the impact of this for Brazilian LGBT people? In several countries, we have already found a relationship between the discourse of state organs and the increase in violence. When a state agent, be it the police, the government or the head of state, as is the case in Brazil, speaks out against LGBT people, it generates persecution. When there is “permission” from the head of state, residents of small communities end up being the target of violence overnight.
Has the pandemic caused hardship for LGBT people? What about Rainbow Railroad’s work? Our main concern, which turned out to be confirmed, was that governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to attack the LGBT community. We know that major earthquake events around the world generate this opportunity.
The most explicit case occurred in Uganda, where police raided a shelter for LGBT people accused of violating the lockdown by being in a shelter. And they got stuck for three weeks. We had to help them resettle in the interior of the country afterwards. And we learned that there had been another invasion of foster homes in May.
In addition, there is the problem that human rights defenders are unable to act because of the pandemic. And we also always travel to make contacts, we work a lot with local organizations to help with the accompaniment and that has become much more difficult, especially when it is necessary to make these meetings in all discretion.
Is there one region in the world that concerns you the most at the moment? We are carefully examining the situation in Central and South America. In Venezuela, the economic crisis has created the largest refugee crisis since Syria. And in a unique way, because it is not a country formally at war. In Central America, you have El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama, where there is a climate problem as well as violence that spills over to LGBT people. And Brazil is a country where LGBT people were supposed to be able to live in peace, but given the political climate, that’s not so true.
In Brazil, the trans population is mainly employed in precarious sectors, with high informal activity or low wages. In addition, most transgender people work in the sex market. How did it go during the pandemic? This was a concern for us in countries like Brazil, where the government supported measures that were not meant to protect the population from the coronavirus. Because, without government support, these people cannot stay at home and not work.
It doesn’t just happen in Brazil. Around the world, we know that the most vulnerable people who died the most from Covid were those who couldn’t stay at home.
The name of the organization is inspired by the Underground Railroad [rota de fuga usada por escravos nos EUA]. In the cases received, M. see an intersection between racism and homophobia? Definitely yes. We are in the midst of a global refugee crisis – and it’s important to stress that it’s not the fault of refugees, but of governments failing to act – and most of those affected are not whites. It’s a fact.
A political scientist from the University of Ottawa, he has an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Victoria and has campaigned for over 20 years for the rights of young people, people affected by HIV, Afro-Caribbean and LGBT communities. He won the award for best LGBT leadership in Canada and was ranked by Out Magazine as one of the most influential LGBT people in the world.