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BRAZIL: Fight for Gay Rights Making Strides

Fabíola Ortiz

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 25 2011 (IPS) - Brazil is making progress in cracking down on homophobia and upholding the rights of homosexuals. The latest step was the introduction in Congress of a bill on sexual diversity, sponsored by the bar association in consultation with civil society.

The 109-article bill, which would reform 132 legal provisions, was drafted by a special commission of experts set up by the Federal Council of the national bar association (OAB), who received some 200 suggestions and contributions from activists and social movements over the last four months.

The chief aim is to guarantee the rights of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) population, protect freedom of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender equality, as well as the right to form a family, and fight discrimination, lawyer Maria Berenice Dias, who presides over the OAB’s Special Commission on Sexual Diversity, told IPS.

“So far there is no law recognising LGBT rights. I have been working in the area of gay rights for 10 years,” said Dias, who set up the OAB commission on Apr. 15.

“We saw the need for broad legislation on this question in Brazil, which has laws protecting children, people with special needs and others, but not homosexuals,” she said.

But she noted the historic unanimous ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on May 5, recognising same-sex civil unions.


The verdict helped paved the way for homosexual couples to gain access to rights like a pension, inheritance, and the adoption of children. “It took a decade to achieve that legal recognition by the courts,” said Dias.

On Wednesday, the first same-sex civil union was legalised in the state of Rio de Janeiro, between the superintendent of Rio de Janeiro’s Secretariat of Social Assistance and Human Rights, 40-year-old Cláudio Nascimento, and 39-year-old naval officer João Batista da Silva, who have lived together for 12 years.

“This is a watershed for my generation,” Nascimento told IPS. “We never expected this to happen. I see it as an achievement that guarantees us greater security and maneuvering room to forge ahead with our life plans.”

Civil unions, he added, help the gay community fight for their rights. “Intolerance still exists, but this is a huge victory,” he said.

But Dias complains that Congress has not yet recognised the rights of homosexuals, as both the judicial and executive branches have done. To that end, the OAB drew up the bill on sexual diversity, “which upholds the principle of dignity.”

“The most significant article is the one that underscores the basic right to happiness in the public sphere, in the family, and in educational and professional development. Discrimination simply must not be allowed,” Dias said.

Along with the bill on sexual diversity, a proposed constitutional amendment was presented to Congress Tuesday. The amendment would penalise discrimination for gender orientation and identity, grant 180 days of parental leave to any parent, and make same-sex marriage legal in Brazil.

“The draft amendment is based on the concept of a stable relationship being between two people, and not just between a man and a woman,” she said. “In the proposal we also replaced the terms ‘maternity’ and ‘paternity’ leave with ‘birth’ leave, which is more democratic and egalitarian.”

The bill on sexual diversity still has many hurdles to overcome. But Dias said she was confident that it would be passed, even though no specific timeframes have been set for it to be voted on in Congress, where it could spend up to two years before it is finally approved.

“It will become law, I have no doubt,” she said. “We are working hard to lobby and raise awareness among the legislators, and I hope it will go to vote soon. No one believed the Supreme Court would recognise same-sex civil unions so quickly – and in a unanimous ruling to boot.”

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t achieve a swift victory this time,” she added.

The president of the bar association, Ophir Cavalcante, stressed that the bill on sexual diversity represents a landmark in the history of the OAB, in terms of defence of human dignity.

“This is a moment of great happiness and responsibility for everyone, independently of whether we are men, women, homosexuals, gays or lesbians, because we are all human beings and taxpayers, working to make Brazil a better place, and for that reason we demand equality,” Cavalcante said during the ceremony held to mark the introduction of the bill in Congress.

For his part, the president of the Brazilian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transsexual Association (ABGLT), Toni Reis, told IPS that the bill marks a before and after in Brazilian law.

“For us, this means filling a legal vacuum,” said Reis. “In the past, we fought for the penalisation of homophobia and just a few other issues, but today we have a compendium of laws.”

The activist said the LGBT community should use the legal system to achieve respect for rights like civil unions, paternity leave and hospital visitation for gay couples.

The bill on sexual diversity is controversial, Reis admitted. But he said it is necessary, in order to guarantee the full citizenship rights of those who, like homosexuals, do not currently feel included in society.

 
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