Without official data about trans population in Brazil, civil initiatives try to translate reality

Protest held on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro in 2017 in remembrance of the victims of transphobia in Brazil | Photo: Tomaz Silva / Agência Brasil / Used with permission

One survey from Antra, the Brazilian National Association of Travestis and Transgender People, cataloged at least 131 murders of trans people and travestis, and other 20 cases of suicide in Brazil, in 2022.

The number shows a drop, compared to the previous year, which counted 140 deaths. The dossier was released in January 2023, during Trans Visibility Month, during an event at the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship.

Antra explains in the document that the research uses data obtained through government sources, security forces, judicial processes, and cases aired in the media, as well as information from human rights institutions, social networks, and witness accounts.

The organization itself, however, points to difficulty with “access to information, which is often denied, confidential or non-existent.” It also says that “there are many cases in which there is no respect for the gender identity or even the social name of the victims,” which makes the survey even harder and may increase the risk of underreporting.

The report shows that almost all of the victims were people with female trans identities. Seventy-six percent were mixed ethnicity and Black and 52 percent were between the ages of 18 and 29.

The report also recalls that Brazil continues to lead the world ranking of Trans Murder Monitoring (Monitoring murders of Trans people), done by the organization Transgender Europe (TGEU).

To Global Voices, the TGEU says that there may be divergences between its survey and Antra's one, due to the methodology used. Between October 2021 and September 2022, the organization recorded 96 deaths of trans people in Brazil. The secretary of political articulation of Antra, Bruna Benevides, says that the differences happen because of the period of analysis and publication of the counts.

Regardless, for Amanita Calderón-Cifuentes, representative of the TGEU, the number of registered cases is always below reality, due mainly to two factors: underreporting due to the lack of trust by trans people in the police forces and errors by the police and the media, which often identify trans people only as gay men or lesbian women.

Because of these reasons we are convinced that the real number is a lot higher.

(…) We believe that the sexist, queerphobic and transphobic policies and laws promoted by the government of Bolsonaro, led to an increasing trans-misogynistic sentiment that grew even stronger in the Brazilian culture during that period. The same way we see it happening now with other countries, like the United States of America.

Conflict between data

There is no census or research about the profile of the LGBTQIA+ population and the violence against it carried out by official sources or Brazilian authorities.

Thus, data on the scenario usually depends on surveys made by civil organizations and initiatives that do not have the same state apparatuses and often start from their own approaches. Antra itself is one of the organizations part of the Observatory of LGBTI + deaths and violence in Brazil, which recently published the new edition of the Dossier of deaths and violence against LGBTI+ in Brazil.

Research conducted in 2021, by the Brazilian Institute of Transmasculinities (IBRAT) and other organizations focused on the community of trans men. For example, it revealed that, of the 1,217 trans male individuals interviewed, 12.7 percent had completed higher education, while 11 percent did not finish high school. 

Of the 1,113 professionals hired in 2022 through the Transemployment, the largest employment project for trans people in Brazil, 38 percent had at least a higher education degree.

In a conversation with Global Voices, Márcia Rocha, the first transgender counselor of the Brazilian Attorney's Bar Association in São Paulo and one of the founders of Transemployment, evaluates: 

Precisaria haver uma pesquisa nacional ou dentro do próprio IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística) que abrangesse a população como um todo. Nós não temos esses dados (…) É todo um contexto, mas nós precisamos de consultas mais profundas e mais atentas a essas questões todas, para não simplesmente reproduzir um discurso que não corresponde à realidade de fato.

It'd be necessary to have a national survey or within IBGE itself (the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) that covered the population as a whole. We do not have such data (…) It is a whole context, but we need deeper and more attentive research on all these issues, so as not to simply reproduce a discourse that does not correspond to the actual reality.

Rocha explains that the lack of official data can hinder even more the visibility of this population and points out:

O Brasil não é pior que os outros países em relação à violência, em relação à discriminação, à falta de emprego. É melhor do que a grande maioria, porque em 40% do mundo ser trans é crime, a relação homossexual é crime. Em muitos outros não é crime, mas é extremamente repressor.

No Brasil, é (considerado crime de) injúria racial atacar uma pessoa trans ou travesti.

Brazil is no worse than other countries in terms of violence, in terms of discrimination, in terms of lack of employment. It is better than the vast majority, because in 40 percent of the world being trans is a crime, a homosexual relationship is a crime. In many others, it is not a crime, but it is extremely repressive.

In Brazil, it is (considered a crime of) racial slur to attack a trans person or travesti.

Calderón-Cifuentes also says that the numbers do not allow to affirm that Brazil is the most dangerous country in the world for trans people, since it's hard to obtaining data about countries in other regions such as Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia:

There is a severe lack of data on trans communities world wide, and very little funding to pursue the necessary research. There is also very little representation of trans people in research, which is fundamental to unravel the dynamics behind the oppression we experience daily, as it is only us who fully grasp the needs of our communities and truly understand the population studied.

And she adds about Brazil:

What I can say without a doubt, is that trans people experience a lot violence, discrimination and harassment in Brazil, and their government HAS to take actions about this to reduce the high number of yearly murders. Not ONE SINGLE person should ever be killed because of their gender identity. In Brazil we have over 200 in the last 2 years.

Role of the Federal Government

The government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT, Workers’ Party), which took office in January 2023, works with actions aimed at the LGBTQIA + population, such as reinstating of the National Council to combat LGBTQIA + discrimination, defunct by predecessor Jair Bolsonaro (PL, Liberal Party).

Symmy Larratt, the current national secretary for the promotion and defense of the rights of LGBTQIA + people at the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship, told the newspaper Folha de São Paulo:

Temos que pensar em uma política pública que dê conta de existir na ponta, nos estados e municípios, que seja atrativa para essas outras esferas de gestão (…) É muito mais fácil dialogar com a sociedade se você fala sobre as necessidades mais urgentes da comunidade trans.

We have to think of a public policy that accounts for existing, in the states and municipalities, which is attractive to these other spheres of management (…) It is much easier to talk to the society if you talk about the most urgent needs of the trans community.

Antra's dossier also points to records of violations against the human rights of trans people: 142 cases in 2022. In the organization's view, the “state policy of underreporting LGBT-phobic violence” remains a problem.

Plans for a census to collect information about this group have not yet been revealed, but the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship (MDHC) and the Ministry of Racial Equality (MIR) — this one led by Anielle Franco, sister of Marielle Franco, politician murdered in 2018 — have made commitments to the Brazilian queer community.

At the end of January, Antra presented the most recent dossier on violence against trans people to the federal government.

At the event, the Minister of Human Rights and Citizenship Silvio Almeida stated:

Quando falamos sobre gênero e sexualidade, somos acusados ​​de sermos identitários. Pergunto a essas pessoas se é possível construir um país com os números que vemos agora.

É possível construir um país apoiando o assassinato de pessoas só porque elas são o que elas são? Se não tivermos a decência de mudar essa realidade, não mereceremos ser um país.

When we talk about gender and sexuality, we are accused of being identitarians. I ask these people if it is possible to build a country with the numbers we see now.

Is it possible to build a country supporting the murder of people just because they are what they are? If we don't have the decency of changing that reality, we don't deserve to be a country.

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