Sexuality Policy Watch

Local Representation and Party Politics: Transexual and Travesti Candidates in Brazil

Local Representation and Party Politics: Transexual and Travesti Candidates in Brazil[1]

By Marco Aurélio Máximo Prado[2]

At a time in which electoral processes are undermining democracy not only in Brazil, but also in many other countries, electoral results can give in sight to many questions regarding the foundations of the democratic process. One of these questions can be seen in the recent municipal elections in Brazil. Despite the representational crisis in our country, a significant number of transsexual and travesti candidates, representing a wide diversity of parties and ideologies, ran for and in some cases won political office in the recent elections for city council positions.

Since the birth of the first LGBT social activist organizations in Brazil, the theme of LGBT participation in political parties has created many controversies. During the initial years of Brazil’s democratic resurgence, there were many debates regarding LGBT experiences, minority interests, political demands and proposals and whether or not these could find a place within the party structure, even taking into consideration the fact that some parties seemed to be more open to sexual and gender diversity.

Although these polemics divided many activists in the 1980s and ‘90s, at that time gay and lesbian candidates for political office began to appear at various levels of the representational process that was emerging from the repression of the Brazilian dictatorship. There weren’t many gay and lesbian candidates, but given the political scenario of the times (when discussions regarding LGBT visibility, public policies and legal rights were just beginning) these candidates showed the potential for democratic participation, as well as raising possibilities for increased visibility and rights.

To give an idea of what it was like to be an LGBT candidate in that context, in 1982, during the first election in which the Workers Party participated in an organized fashion, Edson Nunes ran for Federal Deputy as a gay activist. He became the first visibly homosexual candidate to run for office in the post-dictatorial period in Brazil.

Edson Nunes’s campaign (1982)

Although the participation of gays and lesbians in political parties was polemical at the time, every election brought more and more homosexual candidates, mostly agglomerated in the left political parties. May gay and lesbian nuclei were created within the parties, especially towards the end of the 1990s. Some of these were also in center and center-left parties, though this sort of characterization is always insufficient when it comes to dealing with ideas and parties.  What is clear, however, is that the more conservative parties didn’t have candidates representing sexual or gender diversity at that time. This situation would change completely during the first decades of the 21st century, however.

It is important to emphasize that the many gay and lesbian activist organizations never came to a consensus about the insertion of the movement into political parties. This sort of strategic   political positioning always ignited many debates within the LGBT social movements, which culminated in many different political candidacies being undertaken in parties that didn’t necessary represent the positions of the LGBT movements themselves. Because there was no consensus or defined position regarding these candidacies within the movement, they were generally undertaken because of local politics and personal connections, rather than any sort of ideological position.

One thing was clear regarding these early candidacies following the redemocratization of Brazil, however: although one could find gay and lesbian candidates, there were no trans- or travestis running for public office. It is quite possible that trans- and travestis were unable to participate effectively in a historical context and moment in which their main political struggle was simply to contain the police violence that was daily murdering them throughout Brazil. Later, however, the struggle against AIDS became a central concern and this, in turn, generated considerable trans- and travesti political participation in civil society organizations throughout the country.

Since then, many political movements have taken place among the travesti and transsexual populations (and not only via activist and social organizations), which have had great political expression. In particular, the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st saw an increase in trans- visibility, both in social movements and in public sector management positions. It is interesting that the political organization of transsexual and travesti women has greatly increased following the organization of ENTLAIDS (National Encounter of Travestis and Transsexuals to Fight AIDS) and several trans- activist organizations in Brazil. However, this increase in visibility has not meant gains in the field of civil rights or guarantees of citizenship, and violence against trans and travesti women has increased in the country (as several national and international surveys indicate). Brazil continues to have a very high murder rate of trans- and travestis and is even considered in some international reports to be one of the countries with the highest rates of extermination of these group.

Paradoxically, in 2016 we saw an explosion of transsexual and travesti candidacies in local elections for city council. This emerged as an important new phenomenon, even in a context where political representation has been losing its importance in the national vote. Brazil’s last elections were marked by two events that reveal a certain paradox: an increase in trans and travesti candidacies and a growth of the null votes as an expression of discontent with the national political parties.

In spite of the general disinterest in these elections and the Brazilian trans-‘ population’s historic alienation from party politics, in 2016 there 94 trans candidacies in 22 of Brazil’s 26 states. North to south, east to west, we saw trans- people run for local office in a wide variety of parties with very different political platforms. Leftist, center and right parties all had trans- candidates running for city council positions and for mayoralities.

A list of the parties which ran trans- or travesti candidates can be seen below:

Party Acronym
Partido Solidariedade PSOL
Partido Socialista Brasileiro PSB
Partido dos Trabalhadores PT
Partido Humanista da Solidariedade PHS
Partido República PR
Partido Social Democrático PSD
Partido Verde PV
Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro PMDB
Partido Social Democracia Brasileira PSDB
Partido Comunista do Brasil PCdoB
Partido Republicano Progressista PRP
Partido Trabalhista Cristão PTC
Partido Pátria Livre PPL
Partido Republicano Brasileiro PRB
Partido da Mulher Brasileira PMB
Partido Democrático Trabalhista PDT
Democratas DEM
Partido Renovador Trabalhista Brasileiro PRTB
Partido Trabalhista Nacional PTN
Partido Republicano da Ordem Social PROS
Partido Social Liberal PSL
Partido Progressista PP
Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro PTB
Partido da Mobilização Nacional PMN
Partido Comunista Brasileiro PCB
Solidariedade SD
Partido Ecologico Nacional PEN

States/Regions and number of trans candidates

State Region Number of Candidates
Rio Grande do Sul South 09
Santa Catarina South 01
Paraná South 05
Goiás Center-West 02
São Paulo Southeast 23
Mato Grosso do Sul Center-West 04
Rondônia North 01
Acre North 01
Amapá North 01
Rio de Janeiro Southeast 03
Amazonas North 01
Roraima North 02
Pará North 04
Maranhão Northeast 02
Piauí North 02
Sergipe Northeast 02
Rio Grande do Norte Northeast 05
Ceará Northeast 04
Pernambuco Northeast 02
Bahia Northeast 08
Minas Gerais Southeast 09
Paraíba Northeast 05

This data shows us that, on a local level, Brazil’s political parties are not necessarily perceived as having set-in-stone political/ideological positions. Rather, they tend to take on a more personalist tinge. Parties that, on a national level, are totally against trans and travesti rights have trans and travesti candidates running for local office. Of the 22 states that had candidacies of this sort, only six saw trans- or travestis elected to office. These were Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraíba, Rondônia and Rio Grande do Sul. The parties that elected these candidates were the PSDB, PR, PRB, PSD, PP and PMDB – two large parties and four small ones, none of which could be qualified as “leftist” and most of which are more-or-less right wing. Curiously, the parties that elected the most trans candidates are the two that are positioned more to the right in Brazil’s national political scenario: the PP and the PSDB. Neither of these two parties has a history of promoting LGBT causes or visibility.

Trans candidates elected in 2016.

It is also interesting to look at the platforms of the candidates that were elected. LGBT themes appear in the majority of these cases, with such proposals and educational courses for LGBT people, anti-domestic violence campaigns, the defense of religious liberty, the defense of all forms of families, the struggle against violence towards and abuse of children, commitment to ethics and transparency and to improved relationships between representatives and the electorate, defense of animals, and promotion of tourism and diversity. Looking at these platforms and at those of the candidates who weren’t elected, we can see that in both cases, themes related to LGBT issues are the most prominent, independent of the candidate’s party.

Although these themes may not always be able to be dealt with on the level of the city council (which reveals a lack of precision in terms of what the candidate is promising and what she can reasonably achieve) , it seems that party membership makes no difference in the candidates’ affirmation of an LGBT agenda, although with regards to the material manifestation of public policies and social controls, party bonds can make all the difference, as we have seen at the national experience. However, party bonds made all the difference in terms of the conditions of this particular election, given that in Brazil the electoral quotient (EQ) and the partisan quotient (PQ) are quite separate and seek to emphasize parties more than candidacies. In other words, voters cast a vote for a particular party and only subsequently for a candidate.

What is defined by this system is the number of seats that a party will have after they have accumulated a certain number of votes. This means that a large number of votes for a given candidate does not mean said candidate will necessarily be elected: this will depend on the EQ and PQ. In other words, although political parties are not decisive references for candidates and their electoral norms at the local level, electoral rules contradict this logic, electing parties more than candidates. This is why several candidates were elected with a much lower number of votes than others, who despite having more votes were not victorious due to the EQ and PQ.

One extremely relevant phenomenon in this electoral years was the fact that trans and travesti candidates were distributes throughout Brazil. Even though less than 10% of the candidates were elected (and these in more conservative parties), their visibility ion the electoral process alone already demonstrates an indication of the direction in which the trans and travesti social movements need to head.

This new fator that showed itself in the recent elections reveals an interest in participating in local political institutions on the part of trans and travesties, even though Brazil does not currently have any public policies in place to protect these populations, nor even and systematic programs to reduce the level of violence to which they are subjected. The extermination of Brazil’s trans and travesti populations continues and the country has one of the world’s highest murder rate for these groups. The political visibility of these candidates may thus create a very positive legacy in Brazil’s political culture.

Now we must see what these elected representative will do. Will they seek to achieve some sort of coherence between their platforms and their actions as city councilwomen? How will they present to the other council members the demands of local trans and travesti movements? The coherency of their actions and promises needs to be observed and evaluated by social movements and by trans- and travesti political organizations, who should push these new councilwomen to take an active stance in defense of trans- and travesti rights.


[1] I would like to thank Keila Simpson — travesti, prostitute and president  of the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (Antra)), for her generous collaboration in collating the data regarding the recent elections and Lohana Morelli, psychology student at UFMG, who accompanied the trans candidates during the political campaigns and who likewise shared her data with me.

[2]  Coordinator of the NUH – Nucleus for Human and LGBT Citizenship Rights at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG)) and professor at the Graduate Program in Psychology at UFMG.

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