Brazil elects first-ever trans politicians to congress as Bolsonaro loses grip on power
Brazil has elected its first ever openly trans members of parliament: Erika Hilton, Duda Salabert, and Robeyoncé Lima.
Brazil, the deadliest country in the world for trans people, has endured years of increasing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence under far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.
On Sunday (2 October), citizens cast their votes in the presidential and congressional elections.
Erika Hilton, a Black, trans woman, became the first-ever trans councillor elected the the Municipal Chamber of São Paulo in 2020, receiving the most votes for any councillor in the entire country.
Over the last two years, Hilton has fought hard for healthcare and social reforms in São Paulo, but this year decided to take her fight to congress. On Sunday night, it was announced that she had won her seat.
Ahead of her election, Hilton said in an interview with The Guardian: “The reality for trans people in Brazil is shocking.
“We are treated as the ones who must be executed in the most horrendous ways. That is why I want to become a member of congress. So we can rescue this country.”
After Sunday’s presidential election, Bolsonaro now faces a run-off against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who fell just short of an outright victory.
Of the country’s incumbent president, Hilton said: “Bolsonaro is a fascist. Bolsonaro despises humanity… He is someone who legitimises violence, that facilitates the circulation of guns, someone opposed to the rights of indigenous people, someone who disregards women, who hates LGBTQ+ people.”
“Lula is the one who will confront fascism – the deaths, the poverty, the misery that Brazil is going through,” she added.
“As long as I’m alive, I’ll fight like a lioness to protect what I believe in and avenge the voices of my people.”
Já dá pra dizer: TRAVESTI PRETA ELEITA! pic.twitter.com/U7nkJwyGMM
— ERIKA HILTON 5070 (@ErikakHilton) October 2, 2022
Hilton, the self-described “Beyoncé of Brazilian politics”, was forced into sex work at just 14 years old when she was kicked out of home.
After later reconnecting with her family, she returned to school and worked hard to make it to university, studying teaching and gerontology. But when Bolsonaro was elected in 2018, she realised that a “counterattack” was necessary, and made her way into politics, joining the left-wing PSOL party.
As a trans politician in a country where trans people are more likely to be murdered than anywhere else in the world, the 29-year-old has dealt with death threats and even an attempt to break into her office.
But, while Hilton is often scared and has had to hire a bodyguard, she added: “When they want to silence me, that’s when I’ll shout.”
Hilton will also be joined by fellow trans politician Duda Salabert, 40, in Brazil’s congress.
Salabert, a former teacher, founder of the anti-transphobia organisation Transvest and Democratic Labour Party member, became the first openly trans person elected to the city council of Belo Horizonte in 2020.
At the time, she was simultaneously working as a teacher, but after the school received threats because of Salabert’s city council election, she was fired.
She is a strong environmentalist, and her congressional campaign was the first in history to not use a single piece of paper, pamphlet or sticker.
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Salabert has a young daughter with her partner, and after her child’s birth, the politician and activist became the first trans woman in Brazil’s history to be granted maternity leave.
“Being in politics is a way of fighting for a better world for my three-year-old daughter,” she told Estado de Minas in February.
Robeyoncé Lima, a lawyer, activist and Black trans woman, is the third trans person to be elected to Brazil’s congress.
In 2019, when she was elected as state deputy for Pernambuco, she told The Brazil Institute that her work as a lawyer had played a big part in shaping her values as a politician.
“Based on my belief in activism, I took many pro bono cases to help LGBTQ+ friends secure their judicial rights,” she said.
“However, this pro bono advocacy was focused on individuals—helping a specific lesbian, gay, or trans person. But from the moment you become a public figure, you realize that it is more effective to provide support on a larger scale.
“In professional terms, the biggest difference has been to stop providing support to one person and start providing support to an entire group of people, through public policy.”
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Following her election, she shared on Instagram: “Together we made history.. All those votes went to a trans person committed to the people’s agenda. The fight doesn’t stop here, but it continues and grows from there.
“Now my commitment is to elect Lula president at the end of October and I know I can count on you in this battle!”
She added: “We are a force to be reckoned with and no one will stop us. I am because we are!”
On Sunday, Brazilians also cast their votes for the country’s next leader, and while the left-wing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – known as Lula – beat the far-right Bolsonaro in the popular vote, he received 48 per cent of the vote, just shy of the 50 per cent of votes needed to be elected.
The run-off election will take place on 30 October.
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