Public policies for trans population still insufficient, says representative of Antra

Bruna Benevides, secretary of Political Negotiation at the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (Antra), applauds federal initiatives but calls for effective action and criticizes the anti-trans feminist discourse

According to Bruna Benevides, a leading figure in the struggle for human rights, the Lula government needs to take effective action to protect and guarantee the rights of the LGBTQIA+ population, especially the trans and transvestite community. The secretary of Political Negotiation at the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (Antra) said that despite the creation of important federal bodies, such as the National Council for Combating Discrimination and Promoting the Rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals (CNCD /LGBT) and the National Department for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of LGBTQIA+ Persons, little has been done in concrete terms. 

“A good deal of progress has been made, and we applaud that. But the outlook is still insufficient given the demand, which is still very primary in nature,” Benevides told Conectas, reinforcing the need for allies to raise their voices and give more visibility to the affirmative actions than to the violence suffered by this portion of the population. “The release of a video showing violence gets more views than campaigns like the one we did recently about the situation facing trans women in the prison system [Dossier: “A look at the profile of transvestites and transexual women in the prison system”]. This is something that needs to change, and we’re going to change it with people who are committed to our struggle.”

In LGBTQIA+ Pride month, the representative of Antra spoke to Conectas about the advances and points of attention of the Lula government, the dangers of the anti-trans feminist discourse and the importance of visibility in a society characterized by conservativism.

Conectas – In a speech in the Lower House of Congress, at the event marking the first 100 days of the Lula government, you said: “President Lula, I love you, but you need to embrace trans people”. How does Antra evaluate the government so far?

Bruna Benevides – I think it’s important to mention that the LGBTQIA+ agenda has never been at the center of any government’s actions. Regarding this government specifically – which the LGBTQIA+ community, social movements and all forms of collective organization worked hard to help elect – we have made an effort to maintain a critical position. A good deal of progress has been made, and we applaud the advances made tackling gender violence and racism, the strengthening of the Ministry of Women, the creation of the Ministry of Racial Equality and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, not to mention the creation of departments, including one for LGBTQIA+. But the outlook is still insufficient given the demand, which is still very primary in nature.

On the one hand, we have a government with an open channel for dialogue, and this is the main feature, which is very favorable and legitimate for our work. But, at the same time, we are concerned because six months have now passed and the symbolic overtures made by the Executive have not resulted in action – with the explicit exception of the Ministry of Human Rights. And we believe it is very important for the government to unabatedly assume responsibility and a public commitment to LBGTQIA+ persons and lives, especially when there is an agenda focused against the rights of transgender people. We understand that these overtures are as important as the practical actions that we also want to be taken.

There are concerns, for example, regarding the very small – almost non-existent – budget allocated to the National Department for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of LGBTQIA+ Persons. We also believe that all the ministries should have committees, working groups, or whatever name they want to call them, to address a sexual and gender perspective, in particular beyond cisgenderism. 

Conectas – Despite these shortcomings, is it possible to claim that prospects are good for the LGBTQIA+ population, especially trans persons and transvestites?

Bruna Benevides – From a symbolic perspective and from the construction of spaces to discuss politics, yes. I’m talking here about the National LGBTQIA+ Council [National Council for Combating Discrimination and Promoting the Rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals (CNCD/LGBT)], as an important space for social participation. What concerns us is the effective action. 

So far, no effective action has been taken to address the high rates of violence against the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly the trans population. Brazil has lots of catching up to do given its inaction regarding this data on violence, and we think that 2023 is already a lost year. In other words, we believe that Brazil will continue to be the country that most kills trans people in the world.

Conectas – This type of violence increased during the last government. In your assessment, what was the biggest impact of the Bolsonaro government on the transgender and transvestite population?

Bruna Benevides – It’s intriguing to mention that the most recent breakthroughs we achieved took place during that period, although they obviously had nothing to do with the Bolsonaro government, which established an anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda. The impact [of this agenda] was an escalation of the process of marginalization, vulnerability and criminalization of the existence of sexual and gender dissent and of bodily diversity. While today we are claiming symbolic overtures, in the last government these overtures resulted in very significant and violent impacts for the LGBTQIA+ population. It is not surprising, particularly during the pandemic, that we observed a dramatic decline in the mental health of our population. 

We also saw an increase in direct violence and the suspension of health policies for the trans population, in addition to several other setbacks, such as the restriction of government grants for culture. In short, there was a campaign that intended (and succeeded, to a certain extent) to completely bury the agenda and the struggle of trans and LGBTQIA+ persons, in general, in these post-coup years. 

Conectas – In this year’s LGBTQIA+ Pride month, a hearing was held in the Childhood, Adolescence and Family Committee of the Lower House of Congress, whose transphobic content was denounced by the federal congresswoman Erika Hilton. In your opinion, why do conservative politicians insist on this anti-trans discourse?

Bruna Benevides – In these authoritarian, denialist governments heavily influenced by monotheistic religions – but particularly Christianity in the West – the existence of LGBTQ persons is seen as something unnatural that needs to be demonized, combated and criminalized. So I believe that humanity’s latest challenge, in terms of breaking down structures of violence, is to guarantee the rights of the trans and LGBTQIA+ population. 

In the case of the trans population, there is also an aggravating factor, which was the Catholic Church’s creation of the gender ideology straw man in the 1990s. This is an anti-gender and anti-feminist agenda that has been taking on anti-trans proportions. 

During the same period, around the world, we saw the strengthening of other anti-trans movements, including within the progressive field, on the left, in feminist movements, which goes to show that the anti-trans agenda is perhaps the one that can most bring together differing groups. 

Conectas – Do you think this anti-trans discourse within feminism can be as harmful as the discourse from the far right?

Bruna Benevides – Particularly because the far right itself and other groups have appropriated the discourse of feminists to bolster their agenda, and, at the same time, these same feminists, in a way, are serving the interests of the far right, making alliances with these groups to achieve their left-wing goals. It’s a very complex and sophisticated ecosystem, which involves two opposing fields of politics.

Furthermore, this anti-trans discourse has very powerful allies around the world, such as Elon Musk and JK Rowling. The UN’s own Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women [Reem Alsalem], who lamented the approval of a law on gender transition in Spain, has actively worked to try and prevent progress and also to deny the guarantees and rights of the trans population, which has been problematic within the very structure of international action. 

Conectas – In your speech in the Lower House of Congress, you also said: “We talk about death to generate life,” drawing attention to visibility. What is the importance of trans and transvestite visibility in a society like Brazil?

Bruna Benevides – It’s important to guarantee our lives. If we hadn’t been able to achieve the visibility we have today – even though it is 80% violence based – I think we would be in even more alarming circumstances. This is why we need a commitment so that our visibility can become a positive visibility, which also depends on symbolic overtures, investments, allocation of resources and the effective participation of transpolitical movements to craft public policies that can definitively eradicate this violence. Our visibility is still very much limited to audiovisual productions and brands, especially during Pride month, but it needs to take a step further forward. 

This is what my statement means: the more we can achieve visibility and activism talking about violent deaths and deaths in life, including deletions, the more we have the possibility of creating empathy, so that people can be moved and be transformed into people who will act in defense of our lives, even before the defense of our rights.

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