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gay congressman flees brazil after death threats

February 5, 2019

These are not the glory days for Brazilian democracy. Day by day, the population that elected president Jair Bolsonaro, who regularly flirts with fascist ideas, has been feeling the result of their terrible choice and having to face the sad reality.

Brazil’s second openly gay congressman Jean Wyllys said that he will not serve the new term for which he was re-elected due to the amount of death threats he is receiving and plans to live abroad.

Elected to the National Congress, he set a strong agenda in defense of the rights of the LGBTQI+ community. He was one of the youngest congressmen to achieve notoriety, a dissonant voice in the conservative Brazilian congress. He is currently the only openly gay congressman; the other one, Clodovil Hernandes, died 10 years ago and didn’t care much about LGBTQI+ causes.

Wyllys’ political trajectory is a bit unusual. He reached the spotlight of the Brazilian media when he won the Brazilian version of Big Brother, the reality show that brings together dozens of strangers with completely different profiles to contend for a million-dollar prize. After winning, Wyllys ran for Federal Deputy and was elected with a modest 13,018 votes.

To escape the veil of “celebrity,” the deputy adopted a tough posture during congressional  mandates. In 2016, at the historic session in which President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, Wyllys made an inflammatory speech and fulfilled the dream of all Brazilian minorities: he spit in the face of Bolsonaro, who at the time was a federal deputy. Since then they have become mortal enemies.

For those reasons, it is not difficult to imagine that the life of this man who has been struggling courageously within the Brazilian Congress was not easy, especially nowadays, with the new political configuration of 2019.

Since the murder of Marielle Franco, Jean Wyllys lives under police escort due to the increasing threats waged against him. Wyllys told a Brazilian newspaper that he made this decision before he knew that relatives of a former police officer suspected of killing Marielle worked for Senator-elect Flavio Bolsonaro, son of the Brazilian president. Is this just a coincidence? We think not.

“I am terrified to know that the President’s son hired the wife and mother of that suspicious man,” he told to the newspaper. “The president who has always slandered me, who has always insulted me openly, who has always used homophobia against me. This environment is not safe for me,” he added.

Surprisingly, Bolsonaro made no explicit comment on Wyllys’ announcement, since he comments about all important matters on his Twitter feed, like his pal Donald Trump. But Bolsonaro’s son Carlos, also a Rio City Councilman, celebrated the news with a tweet: “Go with God and be happy.”

Since Jair Bolsonaro was elected, the level of violence against minorities has increased. Brazil is facing a really difficult time fighting for the LGBTQI+ and Black causes. It seems that now people have lost the shame of being outwardly homophobic and racist.

Although the renunciation of Jean Wyllys is a great shame for Brazilian democracy, it is strategic, according to Black activist Spartakus Santiago.

“Jean is much more important alive. Marielle became a martyr, but I wanted her to be alive. That’s why I think Jean is right to leave Brazil” says Santiago, who also suffers from overwhelming threats. According to Santiago, Wyllys’ threats are potentially far more dangerous as he was disrupting the work of the new establishment causing the wave of racism and homophobia in Brazil.

Santiago is correct: to combat this evil, we have to be very strategic. We have to know when and how to fight. Wyllys’ confirms that the situation in Brazil is becoming ever more dangerous. The mission must manifest in the streets and not let setbacks interfere with Brazilians living their truth.

The good news is that Wyllys’ replacement is David Miranda, who is also a gay, Black man. Miranda is married to journalist Glenn Greenwald, who revealed the American spy plot exposed by Edward Snowden. So, the fight continues.

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