Jair Bolsonaro – Photo: Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil.
In a victory for LGBTQ activists, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has canceled a planned trip to the United States amid outcry over his anti-gay views and record as president.
His decision comes amid a campaign aimed at putting political pressure on sponsors of an event where he was slated to receive an award from a prominent business group.
Bolsonaro had initially been scheduled to receive the titular award at the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s “Person of the Year” gala on Tuesday, May 14, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
According to the event’s website, Bolsonaro was chosen for the award in recognition of “his strongly stated intention of fostering closer commercial and diplomatic ties between Brazil and the United States and his firm commitment to building a strong and durable partnership between the two nations.”
But LGBTQ activists soon began clamoring for the museum to cancel the event due to Bolsonaro’s history of anti-gay rhetoric, including saying he doesn’t want Brazil to be a “gay tourism paradise.”
Bolsonaro has also tried to roll back LGBTQ protections in his own country, and praised President Donald Trump for similar actions that appeal to social conservatives.
On April 11, the Museum of Natural History tweeted that the even had been booked before they became aware of the intention to honor the Brazilian president, adding: “We are deeply concerned, and we are exploring our options.”
Four days later, the museum announced the gala would no longer take place there, drawing praise from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called Bolsonaro a “dangerous man.”
Bolsonaro’s “overt racism, homophobia and destructive decisions will have a devastating impact on the future of our planet,” the mayor tweeted.
The event was then moved to the Marriott Marquis in Midtown Manhattan. But LGBTQ activists, namely GLAAD and New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) continued to protest the event, with Hoylman launching an online petition calling for its cancellation.
Eventually, activists began applying pressure to several corporations sponsoring the event, with Delta Air Lines, The Financial Times, and Bain & Company withdrawing their support.
Then, the “Person of the Year” gala sponsorship webpage, featuring a list of the different banks, health insurance companies, and other corporations backing the event, disappeared or was removed from the Internet, with a “page not found” message appearing when users tried to access the page.
GLAAD’s chief programs officer, Zeke Stokes, pointed to the disappearance of the webpage as evidence that sponsors were getting nervous about being affiliated with such a virulent anti-gay politician.
Amid the controversy, Michael Corbat, the CEO of Citigroup, one of the event’s sponsors, defended his company’s involvement with the event, saying in an interview on CNBC: “We spend a lot of time making sure our people understand the values of our company and I hope that in terms of that, there’s no question of our support, our unwavering support for our LGBT community.”
Marriott, the parent company of the hotel where the event is scheduled, also defended itself from attacks, saying: “We are required by law to accept business even if it conflicts with our values. Acceptance of business does not indicate support, or endorsement of any group or individual,” reports The Washington Post.
But on Friday, a spokesman for the Brazilian president announced he would not attend the gala, blaming “resistance and deliberate attacks from the mayor of New York and the pressure of interest groups on the institutions that organize, sponsor and host the event annually.”
As of now, the gala remains scheduled for May 14, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slated to be honored as the American recipient of the “Person of the Year” award.
Still, de Blasio sees Bolsonaro’s cancellation as a win.
“Jair Bolsonaro just learned the hard way that New Yorkers don’t turn a blind eye to oppression,” the mayor tweeted. “We called his bigotry out. He ran away. Not surprised — bullies usually can’t take a punch. … Good riddance. Your hatred isn’t welcome here.”
GLAAD also celebrated Bolsonaro’s withdrawal as a “victory for LGBTQ Brazilians.”
“Despite our own President’s anti-LGBTQ record and actions, this news proves advocacy organizations, businesses, and local officials can still affect real change,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “As LGBTQ Americans and allies prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, this successful campaign is an important reminder that in order to gain acceptance, LGBTQ people across the globe must continue to be visible, stand together, and do everything possible to protect the hard-fought progress we’ve earned.”