Misogyny, violence, and the lack of visibility within the LGBT movement itself are some of the biggest obstacles that Brazil’s National Lesbian Visibility Day—celebrated on Wednesday (Aug. 29)—aims to address.
The date was chosen after the 1st National Lesbians’ Seminar was held, in 1996, which dealt with the violation of the rights of gay women. After 22 years, the topic was further brought to public debate, but prejudice, violence, as well as social, economic, and political exclusion are still seen to assail this portion of the population.
“We wish we could spend visibility day celebrating the rights we have achieved. It’s still not possible,” said Kátia Guimarães, coordinator-general with the National Council for the Fight against Discrimination and for the Promotion of LGBT Rights.
A document entitled Dossiê sobre Lesbocídio no Brasil (“Dossier on the Killing of Lesbians in Brazil”)—the first of its kind—shows the alarming increase in the number of gay women murdered in the country over the last years. The study shows that, from 2000 to 2017, 180 lesbians were reported killed, of whom 126 were killed between 2014 and 2017.
The publication was put together by the Grupo de Pesquisa Lesbocídio – As histórias que ninguém conta (“Research Group on the Killing of Lesbians – The Untold Stories”), an association aimed at gathering data and stories about gay women who fell victims to this crime in Brazil.
The dossier was drawn up after information was collected on social media, web portals, online newspapers, and other outlets with national, regional, and local coverage, in a bid to identify cases of lesbians who were killed or committed suicide.
“This is not the visibility we want. We don’t want to appear on the pages of police news, with our bodies lying on the floor, or in suicide reports as people with no alternative in life,” Guimarães said.
Despite the mapping of lesbophobic abuse through academic research, no official figures have been made available on the true dimensions of the problem, as a number of obstacles hinder the registration of this type of violence in its multiple forms.
According to the study, the increase in the number of cases notified on digital platforms does not necessarily mean more gay women were killed in Brazil, but rather that more cases were reported.
Claudia Macedo, a member of the Associação Lésbica de Brasília – Coturno de Vênus (“Lesbian Association of Brasília – Venus’s Combat Boots”), believes the most important demand made by movement members is the collection of real statistics. “With no information about the lesbian population, how can we devise specific public policies?” she asked.
Taking into consideration what Coturno de Vênus members term “the state’s lack of involvement”, the association published the Lesbocenso (“Lesbocensus”), as part of an initiative aimed at raising data on gay women living in Brazil’s Federal District.
The work consists of an online form including information such as age, race and ethnic group, occupation, religion, education, access to health care, and violence rates. Approximately 800 people have made a contribution.
Over 80 percent of people who answered the questionnaire said they have suffered some sort of lesbophobic violence—such as abuse, and physical and psychological violence. The survey also shows that 40 percent of respondents are unemployed, a percentage considerably above the average seen among Brazil’s economically active population—some 12 percent.
“In this indicator, the women seen as not complying with so-called ‘feminine standards’ are virtually always the most strongly affected in job interviews,” Macedo argued. Lesbians regarded as “non-feminine” also account for the majority (55 percent) of deaths registered in the dossier from 2014 to 2017.
Gay women’s health
Another challenge is promoting access to health care taking into account the specific needs of gay women.
“If you tell your doctor you only have sex with women, you’re seen as not having an active sex life, and that has a lot of implications for your health,” Guimarães pointed out.
Macedo noted that even the degree of concern expressed by health professionals towards lesbians is lower. “Visits to the doctor’s office are shorter; care is more precarious. Studies have shown that the rate of cervical cancer among non-heterosexual women is higher, since regular monitoring is lacking for this portion of the population.”
Also according to the activists, mental health issues among lesbians have increased in number. Figures in the dossier found that 33 homosexual women took their own lives in Brazil between 2014 and 2017—a number believed to be far bellow real figures.
“Family pressure, social rejection, and the lack of a perspective for the future are issues assailing LGBT people in general, and lesbians in particular,” Kátia Guimarães said.