Brazil is going through a Black renaissance. Queer Afro-Brazilians are not just part of Brazil’s Black Renaissance – they’re innovating it. Groups formerly at the margins of Brazil are gaining visibility within the media. From the rise of musical sensations like Liniker and Linn da Quebrada to the popularity of social spaces like Batekoo and Afrobapho, the visibility of Black LGBTQ individuals is indisputable.
Batekoo, Photo by Vicky Grout
However, this visibility is juxtaposed with escalating violence towards the community. The election of President Jair Bolsonaro and his state-sanctioned homophobia, along with the untimely assassination of Marielle Franco, a queer-feminist councilwoman transforming human rights in Rio, remind us of Brazil’s history of violence and discrimination of Black queer bodies. Despite the sociopolitical tension, queer Afro-Brazilian youth are leading important conversations about what it means to be Black and queer in Brazil.
My relationship to Brazil began in 2011. During my time at American University’s International Studies department, I spent one year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Both my interest in the African Diaspora and my own Black and West Indian backgrounds drew me to the country. Upon arrival, I felt a solid connection to Brazil’s ‘comunidade negra’ and queer community. Most of my friends while abroad were LGBTQ and I felt fully embraced by Brazil’s flamboyant energy.
However, because I blended in so well in my new home, I was rudely reminded of Brazil’s intolerance for LGBTQ individuals and Black bodies. In 2011, while in Ipanema, a group of white ‘macho’ passersby, called me the derogatory terms ‘bixa’ and ‘viado’ and spat in my face based on assumptions about my appearance. Unfortunately, this experience is one that is shared by many LGBTQ people in Brazil. It sparked a rage and curiosity in me about the hardships queer people face in Rio, and in smaller cities throughout Brazil.
Another moment that stuck out to me while in Rio occurred a week before I was set to return to the United States. While saying his goodbyes, one of my friends, Diogo, hugged me and told me that I was the first ever Black and queer individual from another country he’s met. This simple statement warmed my heart but left me puzzled, as I was reminded of the lack of visibility of diasporic Black folks abroad. Upon returning from Brazil, I knew I wanted to continue to find ways to build a strong connection between the Black LGBTQ communties in the United States and Brazil.
(From left to right) Rebeca, Photo by Daniel de Oliveira Jesus, Projecto Wakanda / Joaquim, Photo by Bluno de Jesus Souza and Thiago Henrique da Silva Fontes / Andressa, Photo by Daniel de Oliveira Jesus, Projecto Wakanda
In 2017, I found out I would receive the Fulbright ETA grant for Brazil. During my tenure, Brazil’s newly elected anti-LGBTQ President, Jair Bolsonaro, had put a global spotlight on homophobia and racism in Brazil. I knew that now would be my opportunity to bring awareness to issues facing the Black LGBTQ experience and bring LGBTQ Black Americans and Afro-Brazilians closer together during a time when both of our governments condone and promote homophobia and racism.
Midway throughout the Fulbright program, I decided to create a project that explores queerness in the Afro-Brazilian community. I fittingly named this project ‘Black Bixa’. ‘Bixa’ is a slur in Brazilian Portuguese used derogatorily against queer men and trans women. The community reclaimed and repurposed the term, transforming it into one of endearment within queer spaces.
Black Bixa will explore intersectionality through the lens of queer Black individuals in Brazil and the United States. Black Bixa will also discuss the frustrating parallels that our communities’ face, but the main purpose of this project is to celebrate our beautiful identities. The first few episodes will delve into topics such as the intersection of being Black and LGBTQ, police brutality against the Afro-Brazilian community, the use of LGBTQ slang within safe spaces, and the importance of pop culture icons like Billy Porter, RuPaul, Beyonce, Liniker, and Pabllo Vittar for both Black and queer communities in Brazil.
The first season of Black Bixa was filmed in Portuguese and translated in English. Next year, I plan on filming a group of individuals here in the United States and will translate their interviews into Portuguese as a way to continue Black Bixa’s ongoing discussion surrounding our shared experience.
Click here to view episode one: