Coragem para Transformar, “Courage to Transform”—this is the slogan of Linda Brasil, 47 years old, newly elected city councilor in the Brazilian city of Aracaju, Sergipe. A member of PSOL (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade), Linda Brasil is the first transgender woman elected in Aracaju and the one who got the most votes in the city, with 5,773 votes.
Her slogan says it all: in the country that has been number one in the world in terms of violent deaths of LGBT+ people for the past 10 years, it takes courage to become a public person if one is transgender, to face prejudices and even death threats, to adopt one’s social name before all of society and to fight for this cause.
In the Brazilian local elections held on November 15, 294 candidates of non-binary gender identity showed that courage. Of these, 30 were elected, an increase of 275% compared to the eight elected in 2016, according to data from ANTRA (Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais). In some cities, such as Sergipe, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, trans candidates were among the top vote getters. “The life expectancy of transgender persons is 35 years. This historic achievement is a sign of hope at this dark moment in Brazilian politics, with a racist, homophobic, sexist and anti-progressive president,” Linda told il manifesto.
Among the people who identified themselves as transgender or transvestite, 171 of them used their social name (i.e. the name chosen to represent their gender identity) to run. It was the first time that candidates for the positions of councilors and mayors could identify themselves in this way on the ballot.
The fight to use her social name was one of the first ones fought by Linda when she was a student recently admitted to the Faculty of Letters of the Federal University of Sergipe (UFP) in 2013. Even as she presented herself as a woman, and after she’d transitioned more than 10 years before, one teacher insisted on calling her by her birth name. Because of this, she joined feminist and LGBT+ collectives and managed to get regulation passed to provide for the use of the social name of transgender people at UFP.
From that moment on, her involvement in political activism only increased. However, before she got elected to the city council, she went through the typical difficulties encountered by transgender people in Brazil, such as exclusion by family and from social spaces, prejudice and lack of job opportunities, situations that lead 90% of this population to choose prostitution as the only possible path, according to ANTRA.
Linda herself was pushed into this kind of work during a period when she lived in Brescia, Italy, between 2003 and 2008. “I was a hairdresser, but when I started the transition, my clientele began to diminish. So I went to Italy, where I had to prostitute myself to survive because I couldn’t find work in beauty salons.” During this period, Linda experienced several episodes of violence. On one occasion, she was attacked by three men in the street and had to pretend she was dead to save herself. “This prompted me to go back to Brazil and do something different, so that other girls wouldn’t have to live like this,” she explains.
For Lins Robalo, 37 years old, from the PT (Workers’ Party), the first trans black woman elected to the City Council of São Borja, Rio Grande do Sul, her personal experience also went hand in hand with the path of political militancy. Her candidacy arose within the Girassol Movement, which for 13 years has been in dialogue with the public administration to promote the culture of the peripheral, black and LGBT+ populations and to support their social rights. The initiative was born at Robalo’s own home, starting from the meeting with other people of the LGBT+ community and sharing their experiences and difficulties.
São Borja is a municipality of 61,000 inhabitants on the western border of the Rio Grande do Sul, a state where the agricultural industry is the main economic activity and the political tradition has always been guided by conservatism and financial power. It is also called the “Land of Presidents,” because it is the birthplace of Getúlio Vargas and João Goulart. In a city council dominated by white and heterosexual men, Lins Robalo will be the only dissonant voice.
According to her, diversity in politics leads to an important and necessary break in the standardization of concepts, bodies and contexts. “It is time to talk about dissident bodies, different colors, women’s rights, social rights, and put all this on the public agenda,” she reflects. Robalo gave a concrete example on the value of representativeness: “Who has more grounds to negotiate the value of public transport tickets: a white man, with high purchasing power, who never takes the bus, or a young man, or a black woman, who comes from the suburbs and knows the problems of transport in the city? That’s why it’s important to have someone in the city council who speaks from a different perspective than the usual,” she explains.
The elections marked the end of polarization. Despite this wave of diversity, traditionalism prevailed in the Brazilian local elections. Of the 57,608 elected councilors, 84% are men and 54.56% are white, according to the Superior Electoral Court (SEC). In the political capitals, the party that got the most municipal councilors elected was the Republicanos, a right-wing movement linked to Brazil’s largest evangelical church, followed by the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) and the Democratas (Dem) of the center-right.
In the municipalities, where the runoffs took place last Sunday, the polls gave a clear message: no candidate supported by the extreme right president, Jair Bolsonaro, came out victorious, and the choice of the voters was, in the main, against the extremism and polarization that marked the presidential elections in 2018. The Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), from the center, won the largest number of cities, with 784 municipalities. The PT did not elect any mayors in the capital cities, an unprecedented phenomenon, and has gone from 256 down to 183 municipalities. A part of its electorate chose to vote for candidates of other left-wing parties, such as PSOL, PCDOB and PDT.
Malco Camargos, a political scientist and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, notes that the main concern of the voters this year was the management of the COVID crisis in the cities, which led to a moderate direction for the vote. “The voters, having moved away from extremism, tend to vote more to the center. It is a preference for what is known, familiar,” he observes.
According to the expert, the guiding trends for the 2022 presidential elections will be similar to those for this year’s administrative elections. “When the voters value public policy more, they tend to be less amenable to novelties,” Camargos added, pointing to a trend that is the polar opposite of the one that won in 2018, when an “adventurous” and anti-political type of discourse prevailed.