A report about the lives of imprisoned LGBTQ+ people in Brazil raises the alarm

Ilustrações do relatório que revela dados alarmantes sobre a situação de pessoas queer privadas de liberdade no Brasil | Colagem do Global Voices com artes de Rachel Gepp

Illustrations from the report by Somos. Collage by Global Voices using images by Rachel Gepp, with permission.

Harassment, absence of basic hygiene and health products, lack of food, annulment of identities and other violations of human rights appear in stories heard in Brazilian prisons gathered in the “National inspection report: LGBTI+ population deprived of liberty in Brazil,” published in the second half of 2023.

Capa do relatório

Cover illustration: Rachel Gepp, used with permission.

The report was prepared by Somos — Comunicación, Salud y Sexualidad, a non-governmental organization that joined the LGBTQ+ community to build actions and policies. The project includes the participation of the National Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Torture (MNPCT) and other civil organizations linked to the Brazilian queer community.

To better understand the research methodology and the accounts gathered, Global Voices spoke to lawyer and director of Somos, Caio Klein.

About the report

The first edition of this report is based on research and interviews from visits to 24 Brazilian penitentiaries, eight in the northeast, and four each in the other regions (central west, southeast, north and south).

Somos's methodology systematized data from 12 state reports to make the national document. In each region, at least one men's and one women's institution was visited.

Klein affirms that “The report is not intended to be a snapshot of reality, but rather a document of trends in the analysis of incarceration of LGBT people in Brazil,” because it reveals the findings of inspections and highlights what can and cannot be done.

Somos has been working with queer people deprived of their liberty for several years. The organization has already provided training on gender and sexuality for more than 8,000 professionals in the prison system, and published books and the documentary “Passages: Being LGBT in Prison” (2019).

Brazilian contradiction

Although he says that Brazil is the country that produces the most regulations, resolutions and recommendations referring to LGBTQ+ people in prisons, Klein affirms that “there are a series of points that the State does not provide or provides poorly.”

The National Council of Justice (CNJ) and the National Council of Criminal and Penitentiary Policy (CNPCP) are bodies that, by law, establish and guarantee the rights of and detention parameters for LGBTQ+ detainees. With data from the complaints made, Klein maintains that there are at least two current resolutions that are not being complied with: Resolution No. 348/2020 and Joint Resolution No. 1/2014.

According to Somos, there are reports of physical, psychological or sexual violence in all the prison units visited, male or female. Only in the state of Pernambuco and in a women's prison in the state of Santa Catarina were no forms of torture observed, the report says.

Although the regulations of the CNJ and the CNPCP guarantee respect for a queer person's chosen name and gender, that the LGBTQ+ detainee choose the location in which they wish to serve their sentence, and that there is access to specific health care and hormonal treatment for trans people, the reality is very far from that.

“It is deprivation of freedom, not of rights,” says the director of Somos.

The organization states in the report:

Essas situações, amplamente narradas, são a síntese do extermínio das identidades de pessoas LGBTI+ encarceradas, e dos processos de aniquilamento de suas subjetividades enfrentados nas unidades prisionais.

These situations, widely narrated, are the synthesis of the extermination of the identities of incarcerated LGBTI+ people, and the processes of annihilation of their subjectivities as faced in prison units.

Criminal overload

“The first right is not having a right, and the second is respecting the first.” That is an expression said by a correctional officer about the queer wing in one of the prisons visited that appears in the report, which illustrates situations of prejudice, debauchery, humiliation, and homophobia of the workers.

In 2014, a CNPCP resolution assured that the state must guarantee the training of professionals in penal establishments, “considering the perspective of human rights and the principles of equality and non-discrimination,” which include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Somos says that in prisons, LGBTQ+ people are overloaded with charges: in addition to the crime committed, they also pay for the social and symbolic crime of their sexuality and gender identity.

The report discloses that the state monitors, controls and punishes them more. Klein explains:

A ideia de sobrecarga penal serve para entender como o cumprimento da pena é sobrecarregado [para elas]. Essas pessoas vão ter uma privação de liberdade e uma privação de direitos mais aprofundadas. Elas vão ter situações de violência física, psicológica, institucional mais agravadas do que o restante da população — e a gente sabe, existe uma grande mazela social em volta do sistema prisional.

The idea of criminal overload serves to understand how serving the sentence overloads [them]. These people will experience a more profound deprivation of freedom and of rights. They will experience situations of physical, psychological and institutional violence that are more aggravated than the rest of the population — and we know, there is a great social problem surrounding the prison system.

The document says that, in Pará, the use of pepper spray in cells with closed ventilation formed a type of gas chamber. The report also cites “various accounts of abuse, swearing, humiliation, sexual violence, threats, physical violence, use of the body of LGBTI+ people to transport illicit objects, psychological violence, among other abuses.”

Among the more than 20 prisons visited by the experts, only two guarantee that trans people can receive hormonal treatment, medical prescriptions and medications.

There are also reports of physical and moral abuse in the units, and the very act of reporting is a challenge: “To report for what? So that they beat me again and punish me?” asked a detainee who says she fears reprisals.

In one part of the report, we read that there are cases in which people can be targeted for punishment just to generate the dislike of other prisoners:

[…] na unidade, as pessoas do grupo LGBTI+ flagradas em tentativas de comunicação ou contato afetivo têm suprimida essa alimentação e, em caso de reiteração, narraram que é excluída a alimentação de todo o grupo da cela onde a ‘desobediente’ estiver, gerando com essa punição coletiva uma antipatia das demais presas cisgênero e heterossexuais em face das lésbicas ou homens trans que cometem a “violação” de demonstrar afeto.

[…] in the prison, people from the LGBTI+ group caught in attempts to communicate or have affectionate contact have their food withheld and, in the case of repetition, they said that the entire group in the cell where the ‘disobedient’ person are is denied food, generating with this collective punishment an antipathy among other cisgender and heterosexual prisoners towards lesbians or trans men who commit the “violation” of showing affection.

The question of incarceration

The Somos study claims to have the objective of reflecting on “what is missing so that LGBTI+ people can fulfill their sentence with dignity without violations.”

Caio Klein tells Global Voices that this problem cannot be resolved alone and Brazil's prison problem existed before.

A questão penitenciária no Brasil funciona muito bem. Se propõe a ser um espaço no qual as pessoas são despejadas e esquecidas, então, o que eles querem fazer funciona.

The penitentiary issue in Brazil works very well. It sets out to be a space where people are dumped and forgotten, so what they want to do works.

The first specific wings for the queer community in Brazil began to appear in 2009, but the national prison system has been in critical condition for decades. According to the 17th Brazilian Public Security Yearbook, the number of prisoners in Brazil increased by almost 260 percent from 2000 to 2022: that is more than 830,000 people.

The LGBTI Prisoners Report from the National Secretariat of Penal Policies reveals that more than 12,300 detainees declared themselves as belonging to the community in 2022.

Overcrowding, lack of hygiene and restriction of basic health and food items are frequent complaints. The country has one of the largest prison populations in the world, in absolute numbers.

In October, the Supreme Federal Court recognized that there is an “unconstitutional state of affairs” in the Brazilian prison system and affirmed that there is a “massive violation of fundamental rights.”

The Supreme Court established a period of six months for the federal government to develop an intervention plan.

Somos prepared 21 recommendations for the bodies and representatives of the judiciary, executive, civil society and three ministries: health, public security and human rights.

For the director of the organization, the possible solution is to strengthen the separate wing policies in the units and, at the same time, make a “large and mandatory” investment in the qualification of the work of security agents on issues of diversity and inclusion.

“The ideal prison for LGBT people is one that respects all people,” says Klein.

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