Gender ideology and the Bolsonaro government

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By Julian Rodrigues*

In 1988, Brazil completed its democratic transition by approving a new Constitution (since 1964 the country had been dominated by a military dictatorship). Since the enactment of the new constitutional charter, there has been a process of recognition of civil and political rights and the implementation of social policies. This process acquired intensity between the years 2003-2014, during the center-left governments of Lula and Dilma Roussef.

In the 1990s, even during the neoliberal governments of Fernando Collor – deposed by impeachment in 1992 – and Fernando Henrique, who ruled between 1995 and 2002, there was a progressive advance in terms of legislation and policies to promote the rights of the black population , native peoples, youth, women, the elderly. And, to a lesser extent, progress was made in the policy to confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which mainly affects gays, bisexuals and transvestites.

From 2003, during Lula's government, until the middle of Dilma Roussef's first term, there was a great boost in social policies and the affirmation of rights, as well as in popular participation. The Lula government created the program Brazil without homophobia, in 2004. A set of 54 cross-cutting government actions to promote public policies focused on the LGBTI population. In 2008, the I National LGBTI Conference took place, where more than a thousand activists from all over the country discussed public policies, an event opened by Lula himself. It was the culmination of a process – unprecedented – for the recognition of the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites, transgender women, transgender men and intersex people.

In 2011, the Supreme Court recognized stable unions and LGBTI families – and, in 2013, civil marriage between people of the same sex was fully legalized. In 2018, the same STF recognized the right of trans people to change their name and gender, through self-declaration.

None of these advances, rights or conquests passed, however, by the National Congress. The Brazilian parliament has never constituted a majority capable of legislating in favor of the recognition of LGBTI rights.

It so happens that, at least since the 2010 elections, we have witnessed a conservative rise driven, above all, by evangelical fundamentalist sectors and by Catholic conservatives, who oppose sexual and reproductive rights.

The ascending process of recognition of new subjects of rights and construction of social policies in Brazil has been gradually contested in recent years, in a growing aspiration. The agenda of LGBTI rights was raised to the center of political-electoral disputes.

The conservative rise managed to block, in 2014 and 2015, the approval, in the National Plan – and in the State and Municipal Education Plans – any measure aimed at promoting respect for gender equality and sexual diversity in schools.

Politicians, pastors, priests, bishops, deputies, councilors, imported the term “gender ideology” (see https://aterraeredonda.com.br/ideologia-de-genero-afinal-do-que-estao-falando-e-do-que-nos-deveriamos-falar/). They disseminated the idea that discussing gender in education is equivalent to defending the destruction of families, the dissolution of children's identities and even encouraging pedophilia.

A vague, pluri-semantic expression, “gender ideology” works as a kind of trigger and password for reactionary mobilization. A scarecrow. Galvanizing a series of ideas and fears, produced within the scope of religious conservatism, this movement helped trigger moral panics mainly related to the integrity of children and adolescents and the well-being of families.

All this conservative agitation in Brazilian lands took place in consonance with a much broader, international initiative. In several European and Latin American countries (with emphasis on Colombia and Costa Rica) very similar processes took place, when “cultural wars” and “anti-gender” mobilizations (from conservative sectors, religious or not) were mixed with political, electoral battles and more general ideological ones, driving the growth of extreme right-wing sectors that threaten liberal democracy itself.

In several countries, the fight against “gender ideology” worked as a symbolic glue, uniting different reactionary sectors. Even parties and segments identified with the center and the center-right, defenders of economic liberalism, were, on several occasions, engulfed by a veritable conservative tsunami, which has as one of its vertices the frontal opposition to sexual and reproductive rights and moral controversies. .

Although it only arrived in Brazilian lands in 2015, the expression “gender ideology” has its origins in the mid-1990s, from the opposition of conservative Catholic activism to the term “gender”, which is consolidated in official UN documents. “Gender ideology” is an idea that appeared at the Episcopal Conference of Peru in 1998 and was later expanded and sophisticated in various official documents of the Catholic Church and in theoretical works by various theologians and bishops.

The term “gender ideology”, in addition to functioning as a trigger for triggering moral panics, is generally associated with an alleged attack by academics, feminists and LGBTI activists (sometimes with dimensions of international conspiracy) to families (that of traditional standards Christian morality) and children and adolescents.

One of the recurring backgrounds is the controversy over the role of the family, the State and society in the education of children and adolescents and the content of school curricula, especially in topics related to sex education, the way of approaching human rights issues. sexual and reproductive health, the issue of gender equality and the recognition of sexual diversity.

It is important to note that one of the strategies of the conservative movement that manipulates the concept of “gender ideology” is a supposed secularization – the attempt to use rational, supposedly scientific arguments to build the discursive basis against sexual and reproductive rights.

Although the entire theoretical framework around “gender ideology” is structured by Catholic intellectuals, it is “civil society” institutions, politicians, and even non-religious intellectuals that often support the anti-LGBTI citizenship battles and against gender equality. Often, as an argumentative strategy, they replace arguments like: “the Bible says so”, with supposedly scientific ideas: “in nature there are only men and women”.

A national peculiarity is the protagonism of evangelical leaders in the spread of moral panic and in the radical confrontation with what they call “gender ideology”. That is, although the entire international theoretical-theological construction is from the Catholic leadership, it is the evangelical leaders in Brazil who popularize (distorting, simplifying) the confrontation with such a threat.

In Brazil, the evangelical pastor Silas Malafaia, for example, makes a point of claiming his status as a psychologist (supposedly also a man of science) to argue that “there is no gay chromosome”. That is: any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality would not be legitimized in the biological order of the species.

Jair: fake news and gay kit

It was in an environment of radicalization, of breakdown of the democratic order and of extremist rise, that took place in 2018, the election of Jair Bolsonaro – former captain of the army, compulsorily retiring; proud representative of the extreme right; follower of Trump and Steve Bannon (who actively contributed to his election).

“Gender ideology” and LGBTI rights were central themes in Bolsonaro’s campaign, in the manipulation of a mega-structure for the distribution of false content on social networks, exploring in a segmented way the doubts and fears of millions of people. His propaganda machine distributed millions of fake news, via whatsapp, stating that the progressive candidate, Fernando Haddad (PT) advocated distributing gay kits in schools, indoctrinating children.

Even worse: messages were spread claiming that candidate Haddad had made baby bottles available in day care centers in São Paulo, which would have a nipple in the shape of a penis (the rumor became known as the “cock bottle”).

In ten months of the Bolsonaro government, we have experienced institutional sponsorship of hate speech, an increase in police violence against young black people, the dismantling of social, environmental and human rights policies.

With regard to LGBTI, the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, a fundamentalist evangelical pastor, said that “boys should only wear blue and girls pink”. And that it is necessary to protect children from evil cartoons, like Frozen, which has the Elsie, who would be a lesbian princess, or spongebob (a gay character who influences little children). This is the obscurantist level of the debate promoted by the current government.

Rejecting manipulations based on moral panic related to sexuality and gender issues is fundamental. It is about rescuing the secularity of the State, the constitutional principles of pluralism and human dignity.

Boost the mobilization willingness of the democratic sectors, especially the social movements of youth, women, black men and women. and the LGBTI population is essential.

A relevant initiative is to reinforce the international campaign to guarantee the freedom of President Lula, the greatest popular leader in Latin America. It is a fundamental step in rebuilding the rule of law and in the struggle to guarantee democratic freedoms in Brazil.

*Julian Rodrigues is a professor, journalist and activist of the LGBTI and Human Rights movements.

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