At her campaign headquarters, Brazilian congressional candidate Duda Salabert delicately lays out newspaper clippings sent to her last August. Her photo is on many of the pages, and Nazi swastikas and profanity have been scrawled on them.
“You are a danger to society,” says one of them. “You have to be isolated as soon as possible, preferably in a concentration camp.”
Salabert, 41, said that all the threats are directly related to her identity as a trans woman, which has made her an object of hatred by right-wing groups.
Among the more than 30 trans candidates tracked by the country’s National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (ANTRA), about 80 percent have received threats or been intimidated during this period of the electoral cycle, he told Reuters. the researcher Bruna Benavides.
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Political violence has been on the rise in Brazil, with candidates and their supporters facing a wave of threats and attacks. Current President Jair Bolsonaro was nearly killed in a stabbing attack during the 2018 campaign.
But even against that base case scenario, there has been a dramatic rise in politicians targeted specifically for their gender identity ahead of the Oct. 2 election, candidates and human rights groups have said.
“In the first 10 days of my campaign, I received four death threats, all signed with Nazi symbols,” said Salabert, who is seeking to be the first trans person elected to Brazil’s Congress. “From 2018 to 2022, there was a huge increase in political violence against me.”
Salabert and his family in the city of Belo Horizonte now travel everywhere with a team of bodyguards, an armored car and bulletproof vests, measures he said cost about 20 percent of his campaign funds. The council provides him with the security equipment, but his campaign covers meals, fuel and other expenses.
“Most candidates don’t have to worry about that,” he said.
The candidates most targeted by political violence and threats are usually black women and LGBT+ people, especially trans women, according to researcher César Muñoz of Human Rights Watch.
“Attacks on trans candidates, especially threats against transfeminine identities, are much more intense, violent and numerous than against any other candidate,” ANTRA’s Benavides said.
Many trans Brazilians, including Salabert, call themselves and their community “travesti,” a revived pejorative term that incorporates both their trans and Brazilian identity.
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Advocates say there has been little or no protection for trans politicians from the right-wing government of Bolsonaro, who once said he would rather have a dead son than a gay son.
“Political parties often don’t take these threats seriously, especially against trans women,” Muñoz charged. “They have to do a better job.”
The federal government and police did not respond to questions about the threats or measures to protect the candidates.
The Reuters agency interviewed eight trans and transvestite candidates who reported threats and intimidation during the campaign.
Erika Hilton, a Sao Paulo councilor running for a seat in Congress, has a full security team at all times.
“They are all anonymous threats that come via email or phone calls,” Hilton said in an email. “Along with the threats of an attack, of burning my house and of killing me, there are also calls for me to leave politics, renounce my candidacy or stop promoting investigations against Jair Bolsonaro.”
Benny Briolly, who was elected to the Niteroi city council in Rio state last year, had to leave the country for two weeks after receiving death threats.
At a Belo Horizonte shopping mall, Salabert greeted well-wishers on a recent afternoon while looking for a place to have lunch. Her five bodyguards stood close to her as strangers came over to hug her and take pictures of her.
Salabert, who said she lost her job as a high school literature teacher in 2018 due to neo-Nazi threats, said such bullying was no match for her ambitions.
“Your threats are not going to intimidate us,” said the candidate who received more votes in 2020 than any other candidate for councilor in the history of Belo Horizonte. “I have all the potential to be the most voted person in the history of this country.”