RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 22 (IPS) - In 2008, 190 homosexuals were killed in Brazil, one every two days, representing a 55 percent increase on the previous year – a veritable "homocaust" according to gay rights activists.
The Annual Report on Murders of Homosexuals, produced by the Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB), says that 64 percent of the victims were gay men, 32 percent were transvestites, and four percent were lesbians.
"A transvestite is 259 times more likely to be murdered than a gay man," says the study which is based on media reports, since there are no official statistics on hate crimes in Brazil.
The findings in GGB’s 2008 report, which has been cited by institutions like the government’s National Secretariat for Human Rights and the U.S. State Department, are "disturbing," says the head of the gay rights group, Marcelo Cerqueira.
In a telephone interview with IPS, Cerqueira explained that the report documents crimes that are "specifically motivated by homophobia and prejudice."
The study, coordinated by former GGB head Carlos Mott, one of the country’s most outspoken defenders of gay rights, says that 13 percent of the victims were under the age of 21.
The largest groups of victims were transvestites, sex workers, hairdressers and street vendors, although there were also people working in sales, doctors, engineers and lawyers.
Cerqueira said that because of high poverty rates in many states, transvestites often had no option but to turn to sex work, at least on an occasional basis.
The report says the predominance of sex workers among the victims "is explained by the practice of prostitution on streets and highways, areas that are heavily frequented by ‘marginals’ and traffickers."
In fact the most violent state is the impoverished Pernambuco - in the northeast, Brazil’s poorest region - which accounted for 27 of the gay-bashing murders.
"A gay ‘nordestino’ (northeasterner) faces an 84 percent greater risk of being killed than a gay man in the south or southeast," says the report.
Cerqueira said the sharp rise in gay-bashing murders indicates "an increase in more effective instruments of control and registration of this kind of homicide."
But the activist also said the figures, although they fall short of reflecting the true dimension of the phenomenon, represent a rise in homophobic violence – in his words, an "alarming" situation that he blamed on the impunity surrounding such crimes in this country of 190 million people.
According to the report, Brazil is the regional "champion in homophobic crimes," followed by Mexico, with 35 gay-bashing murders in 2008, and the United States, with 25 such killings last year out of a population that is 100 million people bigger than Brazil’s.
The figures reflect a veritable "homocaust" – a term coined by gay activists to refer to widespread murders of homosexuals – says the GGB, which counted 2,998 victims of such killings between 1980 and 2008.
The number of murders has continued to rise, despite the growing frequency of gay pride parades and demonstrations and marches against homophobia, and the election of five homosexual or transgender city councilors, the GGB report says.
The National Secretariat for Human Rights launched the "A Brazil Free of Homophobia" programme in 2004 aimed at promoting the citizen and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people through support for institutions that fight homophobia, training of activists, and dissemination of information on the fundamental rights of persons.
But, said Cerqueira, the programme is still weak and needs to take more compelling action.
For example, special police units should be created to deal with hate crimes, and sex education should be included in school curriculums "to teach young people to coexist with sexual diversity," he said.
Another important step, he added, would be to carry out official media campaigns against homophobia, along the lines of the government’s "Water for All", "Electricity for All" or "Homes for All" campaigns.
This kind of awareness-raising campaign is needed, he said, "to educate people so that they understand that homosexuals are not second-class citizens, and that their homosexuality is just one part of their identity."
The activist criticised the Brazilian media, especially comedy programmes, saying they fuelled homophobia by poking fun at and ridiculing homosexuals.
This kind of humour strengthens the idea that "it’s ok to laugh at or insult gays," and from there to homophobic hate is just one small step, Cerqueira argued.
The idea that Brazil is a sexually liberated country is "a myth" created by symbols like carnival, he said. But despite the fact that the proportion of LGBTs in Brazil is reportedly higher than the international average, "homophobia is very widespread," said the activist.
The GGB is calling for the creation of a government secretariat to defend the rights of homosexuals, similar to the ones that already exist for women’s affairs and racial equality.
Such a secretariat could strengthen campaigns like the ones called for by the gay rights movement to fight homophobia, and could help educate gays and transvestites about how to avoid risky situations, such as taking strangers home or having sex "with marginals," said the head of the GGB.
The group warns that if the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva fails to adopt more effective measures to combat homophobic violence, it will file complaints with international bodies like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The GGB report says 48 homosexuals have been murdered so far this year.
According to the report, 45 percent of gays were killed in their homes, and 31 percent were not only stabbed with knives but also strangled or beaten – signs of homophobic hate, which can also be reflected by the number of stab wounds or blows received by the victim.
By contrast, 60 percent of the transgender persons were victims of firearms, and 80 percent were killed in public spaces.
On April 3, 2008 a 35 year old gay man called Daniel, was killed with a brick on land located near the Residential Divaldo Suruagy in the neighborhood of the lighthouse in Alagoas