Brazil: A gay-friendly Church
At first, I thought I was watching a show by a carioca dance school. On the avenue that runs alongside Copacabana beach, dozens of people clad in yellow T-shirts were hopping about and singing and shouting at the top of their lungs. Most of them were very young. All of them had smiles on their faces. Then, as I got closer, drawn in by curiosity and by their joie de vivre, I was able to read their placards, and I understood who they were. “Sorria, Jesus te aceita”. “Smile: Jesus accepts you”. These people were Pentecostalists, members of the “Contemporary Christian Church”.
The reason why they are asserting their claim to the Messiah’s love in this way is because for them, it cannot be taken for granted. They are gay.
For a long time, in Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country, homosexuality was considered a defect, an abomination. Still today, pastors on television and in the favelas make overtly homophobic statements. In its latest report, published on January 13, the Grupo Gay da Bahia, a group which has been championing gay rights in Brazil for 30 years, named the country the “world champion” of homophobia. 319 gay, lesbian and transsexual individuals were murdered there last year. This number has almost doubled in ten years, and the vast majority of the crimes remain unsolved.
Paradoxically, Brazil is home to the world’s biggest gay pride event. Every year, three million people parade through the streets of Sao Paulo. An American magazine recently ranked Rio as the world’s best tourist destination for gay people. There are even some tour operators that specialise in organising gay tour routes. More and more Brazilian homosexuals are leaving a traditional Church which marginalises them, in favour of other evangelical movements such as the Contemporary Christian Church.
This “inclusive” movement welcomes all believers unconditionally, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. When it was founded in 2006, it had a congregation of just three, including Pastor Marcos Gladstone. A lawyer by training, he says that he was “chosen by God” to break the taboo of homosexuality in the Church.
The revelation came to him on a visit to a “gay church” in the US. God is love, and homosexuals are part of the flock like everyone else. The problem, he says, stems from centuries-old translation errors in the Bible. Basically, it is all one big misunderstanding, which the Pastor intends to put right by welcoming to his temple anyone who is willing to follow him. Starting with the man who is now his husband, Pastor Fabio Inacio. A former member of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, he says that he tried everything to “cure” his homosexuality: exorcism, prayer chains, isolation in hilltop retreats… For years, he spent every penny of his wages on “treatment”. He was even advised to go out with a woman so as to “conform”. But a few days before they were due to get married, he dumped his fiancée, who was “like a sister” to him, and turned his back on the Universal Church, which he now condemns for its hypocrisy. “There are a lot of homosexual preachers like me.” Meeting Marcos reconciled him with God. In 2011, the two men became the first gay couple to wed in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Since then, Marcos and Fabio have adopted two children, which is permitted under Brazilian law. Today, their Church has nearly 2000 followers, spread across 8 temples in Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte.
Through their own life stories, they want to show that homosexuality is “normal” and “natural”, as their yellow T-shirted followers chanted. “God does not condemn you. He does not judge you,” explains one of them in a gap between two dance routines. “God loves you because he created you the way you are. My name is Rafael, I am gay, and I know that God loves me because He made me this way! Go to our site (Igreja Crista Contemporanea),” says the young man, handing me a flyer. “You’ll find all the explanations, taken from the Bible. God bless you! “
SPOTLIGHT ON GAY PRIDE RIO
Arriving in Rio on the day of Gay Pride is a unique experience. Even on a normal day, the abundance of bare flesh on the beach is enough to redefine your perception of beauty. No-one is self-conscious here. Young or old, fat or anorexic, it seems the only constant for Brazilian women at the beach is the teeny-weeny size of their bikinis. And then there are the implants. Front and back. Big breasts of all shapes. And buttocks that would make Instagram squat star Jen Selter weep. The men, meanwhile, wear Speedos or Bermuda shorts. The sight of people walking down the street in their bathing costume is perfectly normal. This, after all, is Brazil. You won’t see any monokinis, however. That must be a European thing.
On Gay Pride day, bodies are on show even more than usual. All kinds of bodies. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites and pre- and post-op transsexuals are all out and about. Some of them display a level of creativity that one cannot help but admire. A golden-winged angel who looks like he has just come down from Mount Olympus; a lady whose hair appears to be home to a plethora of exotic birds; a sunburnt creature whose buttocks are as well-rounded as her breasts. They are so beautiful, so proud to pose for anyone who asks them with a smile. A smile they happily reciprocate a hundredfold. This is their moment of glory.
Alcohol is flowing freely. Caipirinhas are served on the avenue that runs alongside the long Copacabana beach. Some (very) young Brazilians down them in one. One of them, bare-chested, is undergoing hormone treatment. He is beginning to grow breasts. Everyone is dancing to the rhythm of the music that blares out of the passing floats. The lesbian and bi float attracts the most revellers. Seeing me filming, a young girl begins to dance furiously to a piece of funk carioca, the electronic music of the favelas. A few metres behind her, a fight suddenly breaks out. It only lasts a few seconds, but it leaves one man bleeding and distraught. The sound system masks his cries. The party continues. A few joggers pass by. With their headphones on, they are almost indifferent to the other people around them. But they have to stop. Blocked by the crowd, they jog on the spot. The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Trans) parade is taking up all the space. Today, the street belongs to them.