Brazil: Organizing for Gay Rights in Bahia

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Salvador da Bahia is perhaps best known to tourists as the most “African” city in Brazil. The administrative center of Bahia State, the third-largest city in Brazil and the country’s first capital (until 1764), Salvador displays the profound and abiding influence of the African slaves who were brought to its shores for over 300 years. Travelers from across the world and Brazil flock to Salvador to hear musicians like Caetano Veloso, Olodum, and Ilê Aiyê, to learn its martial arts tradition of capoeira, to witness the Yoruba-derived rites of Candomblé, and to participate in one of Brazil’s three major Carnival celebrations.

But Salvador also is home to one of the nation’s most dynamic and the oldest GLBT and human rights groups, Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB). Established in 1980 by activist and scholar Dr. Luiz R. B. Mott, GGB has been a pioneer advancing human rights and passing anti-discrimination laws, both inside and outside Bahia. It has also been active in battling HIV/AIDS transmission in Brazil and promoting public acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. One area in which GGB has been especially vigilant is anti-gay violence, an ongoing problem in Brazil, especially in the socially conservative northeast region. (For more information on GGB, visit their Website at www.ggb.org.br. They offer basic information in English.)

Last year (July 2003) I had an informal on-line discussion with Marcelo Cerqueira, the president of GGB. We spoke about his personal activism; GGB’s role in Salvador and its efforts to advance gay rights and human rights; the role of black culture among Bahia’s homosexuals; and the relationship between Brazilian and American gay culture. Since then, Marcelo has continued his and GGB’s multifaceted efforts to enhance and advance the rights of GLBT people.

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