Brazil’s first gay congressman flees the country fearing for his life

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Jean Wyllys (Pic: Ministério da Cultura)

Jean Wyllys, who’s been described as South America’s very own Harvey Milk, has left Brazil in the wake of ongoing death threats against him.

In an interview with the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, Wyllys said he was currently in Europe and had no plans to return to Brazil or resume his work as a lawmaker.

Wyllys explained that he feared for his life if he continued fighting for LGBTQ equality in his homeland, even with a bodyguard at his side. “For the future of this cause, I need to stay alive. I don’t want to be a martyr. I want to live,” he said.

Wyllys is a lecturer, journalist and politician who rose to fame after winning the fifth season of Big Brother Brasil. In October he was re-elected to a third term as a Member of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the National Congress, but will now not take up the position in February.

The country’s LGBTQ community has been shaken by the election last year of right wing president Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes LGBTQ equality.

In 2002, Bolsonaro, a former soldier, said: “If I see two men kissing each other in the street, I’ll whack them.” In 2011, he commented that, “I would be incapable of loving a gay son,” adding that he would, “rather my son died in an accident than showed up with some bloke with a moustache.”

Wyllys said that it was not Bolsonaro’s election itself that led to his decision to leave Brazil, “it was the level of violence that has increased since he was elected.”

While LGBTQ Brazilians have many rights, including marriage equality and the right to adopt, the country has the world’s highest LGBTQ murder rate, with 387 individuals killed in 2017; that’s approximately one LGBTQ person murdered every 19 hours. Activists have warned that the figure for 2018 will likely be even higher.

Wyllys, nevertheless, remains hopeful. “I think that this political violence that has settled in our country will pass. It may be that in the future I will resume this.”

He later wrote on Facebook: “Preserving threatened life is also a strategy of fighting for better days. We did a lot for the common good. And we will do much more when the new time comes, no matter what we do by other means! Thank you all, from my heart.”

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