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social sciences

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Brazil is the world's fifth largest country, with the fifth largest population (approaching 180 million), and the eighth largest economy. Its racial diversity reflects traces of the land's first indigenous inhabitants, a large Afro-Brazilian population descended from imported slaves, Portuguese colonizers (and later other European immigrants), as well as Japanese and Middle Eastern communities.

Stretching from the vast Amazon River Basin in the north to flat cattle grazing lands in the south, the country's natural riches have produced successive economic exporting cycles of sugar, tobacco, gold, diamonds, cotton, coffee, rubber, and in the late twentieth century, soybeans, oranges, and diverse agricultural products.

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In the last fifteen years, the Brazilian glbtq movement has become one of the most dynamic in the world. Activists have formed nearly a hundred political organizations throughout this continent-sized nation.

Pride parades are now held in the capitals of most states. São Paulo boasts more than a million people attending its massive June march down the city's main thoroughfare to a rally near a downtown park.

In many states, lawmakers have approved domestic partner legislation and prohibitions of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The movement is now working to obtain an amendment to the Constitution banning discrimination. The goal of national recognition of same-sex relationships (parceria civil) was recently achieved by a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that same-sex couples were entitled to all the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by married couples. Marriage equality has been achieved in states that comprise almost half of the population.

Colonial Rule

During Portuguese colonial rule (1500 to 1822), the Church condemned same-sex sexuality. The Inquisition defined as the anal penetration of a man or woman. When two men were involved, the Office of the Holy Inquisition, which was installed in Portugal in 1553, as well as Portuguese legal codes, considered both the penetrator and the receptor to be sodomites. If found guilty of this offense, a person was subject to burning at the stake, and his or her property could be seized.

According Luiz R. B. Mott, Brazil's senior glbtq activist and a professor of anthropology, between 1587 and 1794, the Portuguese Inquisition registered 4,419 denunciations of sodomy. These included both those suspected of having practiced sodomy and those who provided confessions attesting to the fact that they had committed the "abominable and perverted sin."

Of the total number, 394 went to trial. Thirty were eventually burned at the stake, three in the sixteenth century and twenty-seven in the seventeenth century. Those condemned persons not put to death could be sentenced to hard labor on the King's galley ships or to temporary or perpetual exile in Africa, India, or Brazil.

Nineteenth Century

In 1830, eight years after independence from Portugal, Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro I signed into law the Imperial Penal Code. Among other provisions, the new law eliminated all references to sodomy. However, article 280 punished public acts of indecency with ten to forty days imprisonment and a fine corresponding to one half of the time served. This provision gave the police the discretion to determine what constituted a public act of indecency. It also gave them the power to arrest people arbitrarily or take bribes from them upon threat of detention.

The 1889 Republican government approved a new penal code in 1890 that maintained the decriminalization of sodomy. Although not explicitly punishing same-sex erotic activities, the new law sought to control such conduct through indirect means and restricted homosexual behavior. Laws against public indecency, cross-dressing, vagrancy, and "libertine" behavior provided the police and the courts ample legal instruments to restrain or repress public manifestations of homosexuality.

Brazilian society and culture afforded women much less access to public spaces until the twentieth century. Those women involved in sexual and romantic relations with other women had to maintain a discreet profile to avoid social ostracism by family and society.

Early Twentieth Century

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, men involved in same-sex sexual relations congregated in certain downtown areas of Brazil's largest cities. Parks, train stations, public restrooms, and particular streets became sites where gay men could identify sexual partners, meet friends, and integrate newcomers into social support networks.

Rigid gender roles tended to shape homosexual identities. Many effeminate men sought "real" men as their sexual partners. Similarly, many masculine women chose traditionally feminine companions, at times living as apparently heterosexual couples.

The tradition of cross-dressing during Carnival celebrations offered a unique moment in the year when men and women could freely don clothes of the opposite gender and parade in the streets or participate in Carnival masquerade balls.

Mid-Twentieth Century

In the 1950s and 1960s, these rigid gender roles began to break down, as many men and women assumed sexual identities less predicated on imitating pervasive representations of the masculine and the feminine. At the same time, a rich and complex semi-visible world of gay men and lesbians expanded in Brazil's state capitals, offering multiple social and sexual possibilities.

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Top: Brazil and neighboring countries in 2004.
Above: The 2004 São Paulo Pride Parade. Photo: Agência Brazil.

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