Demagogues rely on fear to consolidate power. But courage is contagious – that’s why we must join hands and fight back
Substantial media coverage over the last year, within Brazil and internationally, has been devoted to threats and attacks we each received, separately and together, due to our work – David’s as a congressman and Glenn’s as a journalist. These incidents have been depicted, rightfully so, as reflective of the increasingly violent and anti-democratic climate prevailing in Brazil as a result of the far-right, authoritarian, dictatorship-supporting movement of President Jair Bolsonaro, which consolidated substantial power in the election held at the end of 2018.
There was much discussion when David entered congress in early 2019 after the only other openly LGBTQ+ congress member, Jean Wyllys, fled his seat and the country in fear of his life. As a longtime LGBTQ+ celebrity and sole LGBTQ+ member of congress, Wyllys had endured constant death threats and even bullying from fellow members of congress. His multiple fights with Bolsonaro and his sons made him a particular object of contempt by that movement. That they now occupied full-scale power made his remaining in Brazil untenable.
That Wyllys was replaced by another LGBTQ+ congress member provoked a contentious exchange between David and Bolsonaro that went viral on Twitter. David’s substantially increased visibility as the new LGBTQ+ member of congress provoked countless and highly detailed death threats from the Bolsonaro movement toward our family. That David, in 2016, had become the first-ever elected LGBTQ+ member of the Rio city council already had made him a target of much animus in a city dominated by paramilitary gangs and rightwing evangelical groups.
But his new status as the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the lower house of the federal congress made him a prime target of the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ+ Bolsonaro movement. That primal animus was enhanced by the fact that our public 15-year marriage and our two children serve as a living refutation of the false and toxic depiction of LGBTQ+ life as barren, unhappy, sickly and solitary, an anti-LGBTQ+ demonization campaign that is central to the Bolsonaro movement’s political identity.
A massive new wave of media coverage about our family was triggered when Glenn and the Intercept began their series of explosive exposés last June about rampant corruption at the highest levels of the Bolsonaro government, provoking a wave of violent threats, official acts of reprisal and a powerful fake news machine erected by the Bolsonaro movement against their enemies. All of those seemingly endless multipronged attacks culminated last week in criminal charges brought against Glenn by a far-right prosecutor that have been widely condemned domestically and internationally as legally frivolous and a blatant assault on a free press.
But the sense of danger and political violence in our lives, and for many others in Brazil, began almost two years ago. On 14 March 2018, Marielle Franco – the LGBTQ+, black, favela-raised city councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro – was gunned down while riding in her car on the streets of Rio at roughly 9pm in a brutal political assassination. Franco was one of our family’s best friends as well as a rising political star, a vessel of hope to so many people marginalized for decades and who had no voice. The loss was a major trauma, still unhealed, for both the country and for our lives.
Franco was a member of David’s party, the leftwing Socialism and Liberty party (PSOL). David – also black, LGBTQ+ and raised in a violent favela as an orphan – was as unlikely as Franco to occupy political power in a country long plagued by severe inequality, racial inequities and discrimination of all types. Because they shared the same causes of combating lethal police violence and inequality, they sat next to one another in the city council chamber. Her politically motivated murder at the age of 37 brought political violence into our lives as a lurking, terrorizing reality which has only intensified since then.