February 27, 2019

Brazil has a reputation for tolerance of diverse sexualities and identities, especially during the Rio de Janeiro Carnival. However, discrimination and violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) individuals is prevalent throughout the country. According to Grupo Gay da Bahia, a prominent LGBTQ advocacy group, Brazil experiences high rates of homicides related to homophobia, and reports of LGBTQ verbal and physical hate crimes have continued to increase in recent years. LGBTQ individuals are more likely to be victims of hate crimes in Rio de Janeiro’s north zones, where the city’s favelas (shantytowns) are concentrated. Favelas, such as Cantagalo and Pavao-Pavaozinho, are also located in Rio de Janeiro’s south zone. Favelas in the south zone are typically surrounded by more-accepting neighborhoods. Short-term travelers to Carnival are likely at a lower risk of being victims of a hate crime than those who stay in the country for an extended period.


Changing Political Climate Could Worsen LGBTQ Acceptance

LGBTQ travelers face moderate risks in Brazil, as there is mixed tolerance of homosexuality throughout the state. The election of a far-right president has raised concerns that violence against the LGBTQ community could worsen. President Jair Bolsonaro has openly criticized the LGBTQ community, and his supporters reportedly threatened and attacked numerous members of the LGBTQ community during his 2018 presidential campaign.

The changing political attitude toward the LGBTQ community increases the risk for such individuals traveling to Brazil. Rio de Janeiro has been known to be an LGBTQ-friendly tourist destination that was concerned with instituting related protections. In May 2018, the Brazil Ministry of Human Rights created a national pact against LGBTQ violence, aiming to promote respect, human dignity, and diversity, and to fight violence against the LGBTQ community. Within hours of assuming his post, Bolsonaro removed the LGBTQ community from the Ministry of Human Rights’ list of concerns, which leaves the LGBTQ community without a government office to advocate for their rights and protections.

The grandeur and political nature of Carnival could entice anti-LGBTQ groups to use the festival as an opportunity to act against the LGBTQ community. The current political climate and pressure to change or repeal LGBTQ protections have increased the stigma and violence against the  community in Brazil. President Bolsonaro’s supporters could use Carnival as an opportunity to commit acts of violence against the LGBTQ community. While Carnival boasts a large police force to ensure participants’ safety, the Rio de Janeiro police force has long response times and a tendency to use excessive force on emergency calls.


Rio de Janeiro LGBTQ-Friendly Carnival Events

LGBTQ individuals can mitigate the threats they face by attending LGBTQ-friendly events during Carnival. These events typically occur in mid- to upper-class neighborhoods in the south zone. The southern beaches and neighborhoods are popular tourist areas for the LGBTQ community and host many LGBTQ events throughout Carnival. LGBTQ-friendly Carnival events are typically held in Ipanema, Leblon, Copacabana, and Barra Da Tijuca.  

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro features many events that specifically cater to and welcome the LGBTQ community. Many of the bloccos (street parties) in Ipanema and Leblon hosted during Carnival are LGBTQ-friendly. The oldest LGBTQ-friendly blocco, Banda de Ipanema, typically attracts an estimated 50,000 people. Banda de Ipanema is known for being friendly and safe for families, as police officers and municipal guards accompany the parade to reduce the likelihood of violence.

The Gay Gala Ball is the most liberal and accepting ball in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. This event is the most popular event for the LGBTQ community and typically attracts famous members of the LGBTQ community from around the world. The Gay Gala Ball is held on the last night of Carnival at the Scala nightclub in the city center.

Circuit parties have become increasingly popular during Carnival among the LGBTQ community and are known to feature world-famous DJs and live bands playing electronica music. Members of the LGBTQ community typically attend the “Barbies in Total Control Here” circuit party in Barra da Tijuca and the X-Demente circuit party in the city center.


Risk Mitigation Strategies for LGBTQ Travelers

Being properly prepared before arriving in another country will drastically improve LGBTQ travelers’ security. While in-country, LGBTQ travelers are advised to follow local laws and avoid areas where the threat from either government actors or the local population might be high, such as the north zone in Rio de Janeiro. Below are recommendations for reducing the risk of becoming a victim of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime, being harassed by the government, or being discriminated against by the local population.

  • Do not travel alone to Carnival events and avoid the north zone if possible.
  • If attending Carnival events outside the south zone, use caution when engaging others in conversation about sexuality or LGBTQ issues; avoid public displays of affection.
  • Understand local expressions and words that may indicate a derogatory view of LGBTQ individuals.
  •  If transgender, consider having passport and identification documents changed to reflect new gender before traveling, to avoid problems.
  • Bring enough of any required medications to last the duration of the trip.
  • Be aware of potential cultural biases when assessing acceptance.
  • If caught in a situation that may turn violent, immediately seek shelter in upscale hotels or large public buildings such as libraries, theaters, hospitals, or museums.
  • Use caution when interacting with members of the Rio de Janeiro police force.
  • Remember that visitors to a country are bound by the laws of that country and cannot expect to be released from a foreign country’s prison by officials of their home country. Home country consulates will only be able to give limited assistance to their citizens who are imprisoned.
  • Know your employer’s hotline number and be prepared to call in the event of trouble.
  • Read provided travel briefs before traveling to Carnival.

Security managers should ensure that all your personnel, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, are informed and aware of situations and developments that could impact their safety. Our PRISM newsletters cover global attitudes, events, and issues that have the potential to affect the safety of LGBTQ persons. We send out a consolidated annual PRISM newsletter, followed by quarterly editions.


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