This article will feature in issue 37: Oppression and Resistance

In Brazil, LGBTQ+ movements work to resist the discrimination experienced by our community. Annual reviews reveal a high and constant level of violence and lethal attacks, particularly targeted towards trans people. Although social movements fight back against the violence, the focus here is to consider the impact of queering educational policies in Brazil during past decades. 

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) was the first left-wing president elected by the Brazilian people since the Military Dictatorship (1964-1985). Receiving support from LGBTQ+ and feminist groups, together there was a push for national programmes against violence, discrimination, and inequities based on gender and sexuality. During this time (2006-2010), the Ministry of Education offered a funding programme for universities, NGOs, and charities to organise and deliver training on Gender, Sexuality and Diversity for teachers in state, alongside developing research, community-based interventions, and courses for teacher-trainees. This joint work between institutions, organisations and local governments was an efficient approach to improving outcomes for LGBTQ+ communities. However, actions were not always distributed equally across the country. Consequently, in 2011, the Federal government introduced a new programme called School without Homophobia which aimed to distribute teaching materials and learning resources for all state secondary and high schools. Unfortunately, the programme was cancelled by president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) before launching, due to lobbying from religious and conservative politicians. Nevertheless, Rousseff’s government updated and reviewed the Gender, Sexuality and Diversity programmes more two times, 2012 and 2014.

Meanwhile, during the last decade, LGBTQ+ movements have also created community-based preparatory courses for LGBTQ+ people who were unable to finish high school or access higher education within the timeframe due to discrimination and violence experienced as students. They studied for National Exams, which allow access to Federal and some State’s universities (which are free of fees due to their nature) and also for scholarships and loans for private and philanthropic universities. These initiatives also received support from universities, trade unions, professional associations, city councils, and left-wing politicians. Finally, some of those initiatives are often offered together with job market training, shelter for individuals in vulnerable situations, and social support.

Accessing Higher Education training is strategic for LGBTQ+ people. The Federal Constitution (1988) and the Education Law (1996) recommend job stability for workers in state’s institutions (including teachers, professors, and staff); therefore, they cannot be dismissed because of their gender or sexuality. Professional stability would be one of the reasons why many LGBTQ+ people, despite experiences of discrimination, would return to education as teachers, professors, staff, leaders, and researchers. 

Schools, indeed, could and should be spaces for protection and recognition. By law, local governments must guarantee a place in schools for children from 4 up to 17 years old. However, reports show that trans students suffered exclusion and misrecognition, evading from school before finishing their studies. Following years of pressure by trans movements, in 2018 the Nationals Human Rights and Education Councils recommended that schools and universities should recognise gender self-determination. That is also a formally guaranteed right in many regions through local regulations. In the same year, the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that trans adults can change their name and gender at notary offices; however, this procedure still has expensive fees, thus it is not accessible for everyone.

At present, Brazil is under an extreme-right, neofascist, and conservative federal government, with many nefarious consequences. The current president, Jair Bolsonaro, is supported by the same religious and conservative politicians and movements which cancelled the School without Homophobia Programme in 2011 and supported Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016. The violence encountered by LGBTQ+ people is rising, while at the same time the government is dismantling the policies which have been working to reduce this. Worse, some  parts of LGBTQ+ activism supports and even accepts positions in this government. Critical social movements, however, are expanding and flourishing, and local alliances look fundamental for resistance. Since the rise of the extreme-right, they are organising support networks and community-based services; developing research and training without funding; claiming positions in political spaces; running in elections; and producing campaigns, culture and arts, just to name a few. Education is a disputed field, and Brazilian LGBTQ+ movements are not ready to go back to the closet in schools and universities, not today, and not ever.

By Luan C. B. Cassal