On Saturday, thousands of Brazilians took to the streets to protest against the appointment of House representative Marco Feliciano, an evangelical pastor, as head of the human rights commission. Feliciano is openly homophobic and racist and his appointment has sent shock waves across the human rights community in Brazil.
The protests started at 2pm in at least 10 different cities throughout the country. It represented the culmination of a week of incredulity and resentment against the Congress, which many Brazilians feel has lost credibility due to its support for corrupt politicians and lack of respect for public opinion. How can a man who hates minorities be in charge of a commission that should work for them?
The rise of evangelical pastors to political power is one of the developments in the Brazilian political landscape that worries most of the country’s democratic section. Even Catholics, traditionally less fanatic and more liberal, worry about them. Besides the war evangelicals wage on gays, women and Afro-religion, most of their churches are involved in corruption. Their leaders have no qualms regarding YouTube videos where they appear syphoning off money from well-meant disciples.
Last week, the social networks were abuzz with links to a video of Feliciano in his church, waving the credit card of a wheel-chaired man, and demanding its pin number. “Without a pin, don’t complain if God doesn’t make miracles,” he says on the video.
Even Marina Silva, the internationally recognized environmentalist, herself a follower of an evangelical church, complained in public about Feliciano’s appointment. Silva published a critical note on her Facebook page on how the human rights commission, as well as other groups like the environmental leadership position that went to a soy baron, have become the stage of political bargaining between parties linked to government in order to broaden its support base.
Dilma Rousseff, the first female president of the country with a track record in left-wing politics, landed on the presidency when her worker’s party (PT) had long abandoned its socialist roots and embraced Realpolitik, unabashedly making alliances with anyone that could help it stay in power. PT is no longer interested in the liberal middle-classes that supported it when it was opposition. They now court the emerging middle classes, with more economic clout but not necessarily educated. This is the group that evangelical pastors also pander to, so PT has joined forces with them.
For the LGBT community, this is bad news. The country was progressing steadily towards equality and gay marriage would probably have been a reality by now had the forces of conservative religion not entered politics with the force it has. Their lobby in congress is loud and they have chosen gay rights as their favorite target.
The weekend protests ushered in a new age for the Brazilian LGBT community. The community understood that it can no longer assume that progress is linear and steadily incremental. A war has been waged against them and they have started to fight back. A petition demanding the removal of Feliciano from the human rights role has already been signed by nearly 300,000 people.
Protesters have pledged to carry on with the campaign until the pastor is out. The battle is on.