Unpunished Homophobia

In the beginning of 2007, graffiti with homophobic threats, attributed to a group named “Farmeganistan”, were found on the walls in the famous Farme de Amoedo Street, a place commonly frequented by the GLBT community in Rio de Janeiro. This is a street in Ipanema Beach, in the south of the city, where people of higher economic standing are found. In February, the group Rainbow for Homosexual Conscience Raising organized a public event and the local police that would generally be present in these events in order to keep public order were not present. On the opposite side of the city, another event was taking place where 14 counties of the metropolitan region of Rio were coming together. This would be another typical place to find crimes of violence taking place against gays, especially against transgenders who are normally found on the street performing sex work. Unlike Ipanema, the act of aggression against the Fluminense Valley occurs almost every day. Vagner de Almeida, a film maker accustomed to filming the daily lives of gays, lesbians and transgenders of the region, sees no difference in the crimes that occur in the socially privileged area than in the poorer areas. For him, the difference lies in the “impunity” with which these crimes take place.

“Between Fluminense Valley and Ipanema, the differences consist in the manner in which the authorities and people interested in these types of cases struggle to have justice done. In the south side of Rio de Janeiro these cases are quickly solved. Homophobia in Ipanema causes the mobilization of GLBT groups, society and the media, while in the Fluminense Valley these crimes are not resolved. There is indifference toward these crimes rooted in the authorities and even among the groups that fight for human rights,” emphasizes Vagner.

His last documentary, “Living Day By Day”, tells the story of transgenders’ daily lives, and the brutalities and injustices they suffer on an everyday basis. The documentary mirrors the complete abandonment and exclusion by the public sector toward this neglected segment of society. “I wish to denounce the hate crimes against gays and transgender people and bring to light the impunity with which these crimes are perpetrated. I want to bring to the forefront and make louder the voices of the many that struggle for the achievement of an open society affirming life as a universal right and value,” Vagner affirms in this interview.

Vagner de Almeida is a Project Coordinator in the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA), and his films are part of the “Homossexualities Project” developed by ABIA. He is also a member of the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Health in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University in New York City.

As a filmmaker, you have focused your eye on the Fluminense Valley. Why this focus?

Since I primarily work with sexual diversity, I searched for ways to understand sexuality, gender and health within the reality of poverty and violence and disease. When we started the Project on Homosexuality in ABIA in 1993, we gathered a great deal of information from greater Rio de Janeiro. We analyzed points that led us to believe that the Fluminense Valley was a place with much research potential.

“Living Day By Day”, your most recent film produced in this area, deals with hate crimes against homosexuals. Who are the majority of victims of these crimes?

These types of hate crimes are keenly targeting gays and transgender youth which are very vulnerable groups in our society. In the film many of the youth tell about their lives as sex workers and about the many humiliating and violent incidents they deal with on a daily basis. They document these horror stories with the many scars and bullet wounds that mark their bodies. It was after witnessing this that I decided a film had to be made to tell their story. These social actors suffer the uncertainty of never knowing if they will return home once they step out of the relative safety of their homes.

What factors facilitate these types of crimes in the region?

We could start by naming the lack of respect endemic toward these individuals, the lack of police presence, the politicians with no social commitment or social conscience, no public health policies in place, no social work being done with the youth, no schools or educators willing to become involved and make a difference.

Recently, a number of crimes have been documented in Farme de Amoedo Street in Ipanema, key points traditionally frequented by GLBT groups but also by people in economically advantaged positions. This brings to light the fact that these crimes are not just typical of the more forgotten urban areas, like Fluminese Valley, as it is often believed.? What is the difference between these two areas?

A crime is a crime everywhere. There isn’t any difference among a hate crime which happened in the privileged area or in the areas where poverty is really tangible. The difference is in the lack of interest from the authorities in bringing justice to these cases.

In Ipanema, the aggressors are identified as “pit-boys,” youth from middle-class families from the region. Who are the criminals in Fluminense Valley?

According to the interviews I have conducted, the aggressors are sharp shooters, homophobes, and religious fanatics that incite the general population against the GLBT communities. These are people that consider certain areas as “their own” and do not allow GLBT people to freely walk in these areas. They stone and burn GLBT victims. In these elitist areas, to openly deal with or even pretend to solve these crimes, would give legitimacy to the charges in the public’s eyes. However, this does not begin to solve the cases in the other side of the city. In the Fluminense Valley it’s rare the politicians that would take a stand on this. The media reports on what goes on in South Zone, but rarely do you see on the front page of the more intellectual newspapers the violence that daily sweeps the Valley. It is much more common to see in the more sensationalist papers headlines reading “a quasi woman is found dead on the Dutra Highway”. It is of no consequence that this “quasi woman” was a transgender youth who was horribly murdered while she was engaged in her work as a sex worker. This is our sad and horrible reality. There are in fact no differences between the crimes. The same bullet that killed the transvestite or a gay in Fluminense Valley, can be the same that killed a gay in Ipanema Beach, New York, Paris, or Barcelona. Crimes are crimes, but the form that they are penalized in Brazil is where the real difference lies when we compare socially privileged areas with the belts of poverty that surround Rio de Janeiro.