Brazil: Bolsonaro reportedly uses homophobic slur to mock masks

By Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
Bolsonaro in May. On Tuesday the president confirmed live on television that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Bolsonaro in May. On Tuesday the president confirmed live on television that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty Images

One day after announcing he had tested positive for coronavirus Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire for allegedly using homophobic language to mock the use of face masks.

The Folha de São Paulo, a leading broadsheet, claimed Brazil’s far-right leader had baited presidential staff who were using protective masks, claiming such equipment was “coisa de viado” (a homophobic slur that roughly translates as “for fairies”).

Bolsonaro is a longstanding enemy of Brazil’s LGBTQ+ community and during three decades in politics has made no secret of his homophobia.

“I have [parliamentary] immunity to say: yes, I’m homophobic – and very proud of it,” he said in one filmed interview during his seven-term stint as a congressman.

In a 2013 interview with Stephen Fry – which the British actor later called “one of the most chilling confrontations I’ve ever had with a human being” – Bolsonaro alleged “homosexual fundamentalists” were brainwashing heterosexual children so they could “satisfy them sexually in the future”.

Reports of Bolsonaro’s latest homophobic remark drew immediate criticism.

Thiago Amparo, a law professor and columnist, changed his Twitter profile to “fairy” and tweeted: “President, one day a fairy, like me and many others, will sit in the presidential chair, and be an infinitely better president than you were.”

Amparo said Bolsonaro’s “disgraceful” reported remarks sent a dangerous message to Brazilian society that LGBTphobia was acceptable.

“It gives people rhetorical ammunition to perpetuate even more violence and discrimination against LGBT people,” he said.

“Even if it was in a private conversation that he apparently made this comment, it is really just a reiteration of what he has been saying for his whole political career. He has built his political career around misogynist, LGBTphobic and racist comments like this.”

Thiago Theodoro, a journalist who presents a podcast called E aí, gay? (Hey, gay!), tweeted: “Do you know what’s for fairies, president? Being proud of who we are. Having the courage to carry on. Loving, building families, surviving with dignity and happiness in our hearts, in spite of people like you.”

Brazil’s presidential communication secretariat said it would not comment on the report.

The Folha de São Paulo reported that despite Brazil’s intensifying coronavirus crisis – which has caused nearly 67,000 deaths and 1.6 million infections – Bolsonaro insisted on greeting visitors with a handshake and shunned masks.

Realizing such behaviour discombobulated guests, Bolsonaro dismissed fears of contamination as “nonsense”.

On Tuesday, as he used a reality show-style broadcast to announce his condition, Bolsonaro likened coronavirus to a downpour that would leave most people wet. He said: “I confess I thought I’d caught it way back. I’m the president of the republic and I’m on the front line. I don’t shy away from my responsibilities, nor will I step back from the people.”

Many Brazilians wish he would.

Amparo said Bolsonaro urgently needed to respect social distancing guidelines, appoint an experienced doctor as health minister, stop fighting with mayors and governors over efforts to contain Covid-19, and present a clear plan to help Brazil escape the health and economic crisis.

He was not optimistic. “I think that politically he really believes he benefits from the chaos. Chaos is his way of ruling. The problem is that because of this political battle more than 60,000 people have died.”

Daniela Campello, a politics professor from the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said: “I think he’s going to carry on taking exactly the same line – playing down the pandemic and trying to get across the message that this is an unavoidable catastrophe and that those dying are people who were already sick and for everyone else it’s just a flu.”

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