Brazilian presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro has flaunted a macho distaste for gays. He’s recommended that parents beat effeminate boys. He’s said he would prefer a dead son to a homosexual one.

And he has the vote of Tiago Pavinatto, a gay lawyer and columnist for O Estado de S. Paulo, one of the nation’s largest newspapers. Bolsonaro has “flirted with homophobia because he’s an ordinary, rude man and he knows that,” said Pavinatto, 34. “He will be surrounded by people who will ensure gay rights be respected.”

This is no random, one-off case. Pavinatto is part of a surprisingly large segment of the gay community — 29 percent, according to a Datafolha survey this week — who intends to vote for the former Army captain. And it underscores just how strong the desire is among many Brazilians to prevent the party of Bolsonaro’s opponent, Fernando Haddad, from returning to power.

Strong rejection of the Workers’ Party and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva drive Bolsonaro’s backers, and that isn’t different in the gay community. But gays find themselves torn between disapproval of corruption associated with Lula’s legacy and resistance to a candidate who has repeatedly antagonized them.

Some of Bolsonaro’s most outrageous remarks were made years ago when a presidential bid wasn’t in the cards. But even during the campaign he frequently criticized an initiative to fight homophobia in public schools. It was abandoned by the federal government after conservative criticism, but Bolsonaro still brings up the “gay kit” that he claims was designed to turn children into homosexuals.

Bolsonaro’s press office didn’t reply to a request for comment about his views on homosexuality. The candidate has distanced himself from his most inflammatory remarks and, three days before the Oct. 28 runoff, said that the government “has nothing do to with anyone’s sexual orientation” and he could theoretically appoint a gay person to his cabinet.

The world’s largest Catholic country has a complicated relationship with homosexuality. For all the sexual liberation of Carnival, most Brazilians embrace conservative norms that are becoming even more ingrained under the growing influence of evangelical churches. Yet the courts have confirmed sweeping rights: Civil unions were recognized more than 10 years ago and in 2013 same-sex marriage was legalized. Subsequent attempts at declaring it unconstitutional have failed in the supreme court.

But while Rio and Sao Paulo have gay bars and pride parades, Brazil remains a dangerous place. Official data is non-existent, but at least 445 violent deaths of gay people were counted last year, according to Gay Group of Bahia, the nation’s oldest gay-rights association. The data, compiled from media reports, show the deaths more than doubled since 2003, when the Workers’ Party came into power. The organization laid part of the blame on former President Dilma Rousseff for abandoning a bill criminalizing homophobic speech or discriminatory acts. Haddad supports such a measure.

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Victor van der Meer

Founder & Director of My Rainbow Net Pty. Ltd.

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