By Steven Grattan
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (Reuters) – At her campaign headquarters, Brazilian congressional hopeful Duda Salabert gently lays out the newspaper clippings sent to her in August. Her photo is on many of the pages, and Nazi swastikas and profanities have been scribbled over them.
“You are a danger to society,” reads one. “You need to be isolated as soon as possible, preferably in a concentration camp.”
Salabert, 41, said all the threats are directly related to her identity as a trans woman, which has made her a target of scorn from right-wing groups.
Among more than 30 trans candidates tracked by the National Association of Travestis and Transgender People (ANTRA), about 80% have received threats or been intimidated during this election cycle period, said researcher Bruna Benavides.
Political violence has been on the rise in Brazil, with candidates and their supporters facing a wave of threats and attacks this year. Incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro was almost killed in a stabbing during the 2018 campaign.
But even against that baseline, 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 told Reuters.
“Within the first 10 days of my campaign, I received four death threats, all signed with Nazi symbols,” said Salabert, who would 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 her family in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte now travel everywhere with a team of bodyguards, an armored car and bulletproof vests, measures she said cost around 20% of her campaign funds. City hall provided the security detail, but her campaign covers meals, fuel and other expenses.
“Most other candidates do not have to worry about that,” she said.
The candidates most targeted by political violence and threats tend to be Black women and LGBT people, especially trans women, said researcher Cesar Munoz 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,” said Benavides of Rio de Janeiro-based ANTRA.
Many trans Brazilians, including Salabert, call themselves and their community “travesti,” a reclaimed pejorative term that incorporates both their trans and Brazilian identities.
Advocates say there has been little or no protection for trans politicians from the right-wing government of Bolsonaro, who once said he would prefer to have a dead son than a gay son.
“Political parties often don’t take these threats seriously, especially against trans women,” Munoz said. “They have to do a better job.”
The government and federal police did not respond to questions about the threats or measures to protect candidates.
Reuters interviewed eight trans and travesti candidates who reported threats and intimidation on the campaign trail.
Erika Hilton, a Sao Paulo city councilwoman running for a seat in Congress, has a full security team at all times.
“They’re all anonymous threats that arrive by e-mail or by phone calls,” Hilton said in an email. “Along with threats of bombing, burning my house down and killing me, there are also requests that I leave politics, give up my candidacy or stop promoting investigations against Jair Bolsonaro.”
Benny Briolly, who was elected last year to the Niteroi city council in Rio state, had to leave the country for two weeks after receiving death threats.
At a shopping mall in Belo Horizonte, Salabert greeted well-wishers on a recent afternoon as she found a spot for lunch. Her five bodyguards stayed close as strangers approached for hugs and photographs.
Salabert, who said she lost her job as a high school literature teacher in 2018 due to neo-Nazi threats, said such harassment was no match for her ambitions.
“Your threats won’t intimidate us,” said Salabert, who in 2020 received more votes than any other candidate for city council in Belo Horizonte’s history. “I have all the potential to be the most voted person in history of this country.”
(Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by Daniel Wallis)