Jair Bolsonaro speaks during an event. (Photographer: Andre Coelho/Bloomberg)

Why Many of Brazil’s Gay Voters Will Overlook Bolsonaro’s Homophobic Rants

(Bloomberg) -- Brazilian presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro has flaunted a macho distaste for gays. He’s recommended that parents beat effeminate boys. He’s said he would prefer a dead son to a homosexual one.

And he has the vote of Tiago Pavinatto, a gay lawyer and columnist for O Estado de S. Paulo, one of the nation’s largest newspapers.

Bolsonaro has “flirted with homophobia because he’s an ordinary, rude man and he knows that,” said Pavinatto, 34. “He will be surrounded by people who will ensure gay rights be respected.”

Why Many of Brazil’s Gay Voters Will Overlook Bolsonaro’s Homophobic Rants

This is no random, one-off case. Pavinatto is part of a surprisingly large segment of the gay community -- 29 percent, according to a Datafolha survey this week -- who intends to vote for the former Army captain. And it underscores just how strong the desire is among many Brazilians to prevent the party of Bolsonaro’s opponent, Fernando Haddad, from returning to power.

Hopeful Wager

Disgust with corruption during the 14-year rule of the Workers’ Party runs so deep that some gay voters have been willing to bet that Bolsonaro’s hostility is a mere ploy. Others support Haddad with great reluctance or are refusing to vote entirely.

Brazil’s gay groups, flourishing in its cosmopolitan cities, have been made a scapegoat in Bolsonaro’s grievance-fueled campaign. The candidate has pointed to homosexuals as evidence of moral decay as he preaches a return to conservative values.

Why Many of Brazil’s Gay Voters Will Overlook Bolsonaro’s Homophobic Rants

A glance at Grindr in Brazil shows profile after profile on the gay dating app replaced with #EleNao memes -- #NotHim, the rallying slogan of those who believe Bolsonaro threatens the young democracy. Some men add the name of Haddad, and others warn Bolsonaro supporters not to bother getting in touch. But even on Grindr, the captain has supporters.

“I hope he will change Brazil and give us security, education and health,” said Andre Barbosa, a 35-year-old accountant who lives in Rio de Janeiro and changed his Grindr profile name to “Bolsonaro 17” -- the candidate’s number on the ballot. “So far, they have only robbed our country.”

‘Gay Kit’

Strong rejection of the Workers’ Party and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva drive Bolsonaro’s backers, and that isn’t different in the gay community. But gays find themselves torn between disapproval of corruption associated with Lula’s legacy and resistance to a candidate who has repeatedly antagonized them.

Some of Bolsonaro’s most outrageous remarks were made years ago when a presidential bid wasn’t in the cards. But even during the campaign he frequently criticized an initiative to fight homophobia in public schools. It was abandoned by the federal government after conservative criticism, but Bolsonaro still brings up the “gay kit” that he claims was designed to turn children into homosexuals.

Bolsonaro’s press office didn’t reply to a request for comment about his views on homosexuality. The candidate has distanced himself from his most inflammatory remarks and, three days before the Oct. 28 runoff, said that the government “has nothing do to with anyone’s sexual orientation” and he could theoretically appoint a gay person to his cabinet.

Jair Bolsonaro on Homosexuals, Women, Rape and Slave Descendants

The world’s largest Catholic country has a complicated relationship with homosexuality. For all the sexual liberation of Carnival, most Brazilians embrace conservative norms that are becoming even more ingrained under the growing influence of evangelical churches. Yet the courts have confirmed sweeping rights: Civil unions were recognized more than 10 years ago and in 2013 same-sex marriage was legalized. Subsequent attempts at declaring it unconstitutional have failed in the supreme court.

But while Rio and Sao Paulo have gay bars and pride parades, Brazil remains a dangerous place. Official data is non-existent, but at least 445 violent deaths of gay people were counted last year, according to Gay Group of Bahia, the nation’s oldest gay-rights association. The data, compiled from media reports, show the deaths more than doubled since 2003, when the Workers’ Party came into power. The organization laid part of the blame on former President Dilma Rousseff for abandoning a bill criminalizing homophobic speech or discriminatory acts. Haddad supports such a measure.

No Choice

The Gay Group of Bahia’s founder, anthropologist Luiz Mott, said he’s supporting Haddad despite being against the Workers’ Party. “We’ve never had a politician so openly anti-LGBT,” he said in a Facebook post denouncing Bolsonaro.

But Pavinatto dismissed the idea that violence might increase thanks to Bolsonaro’s rhetoric: “Militants talk about the large number of gays killed in Brazil, but who was in charge of the country for 14 years?”

Others just can’t bring themselves to pick either. Leandro Waldvogel, a lawyer and former diplomat, said the Workers’ Party government not only failed to prevent violence at home, it also supported the regime of Uganda, where gays are systematically tortured and killed, in exchange for support for its bid to join the United Nation’s security council.

“There’s no chance I’m voting for the PT, because I don’t believe in their project for Brazil,” he said, referring to the party by its Portuguese abbreviation. “That goes beyond the issue of corruption.”

Vitor Ramos, 40, a marketing strategist said he would vote for Haddad with a “heavy heart.”

“Some of my friends drank the Kool-Aid and will vote for Bolsonaro, but most of them fear that minorities like ours are in danger, as well as our own democracy.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.