Metro Weekly

Brazilian governor and potential presidential challenger Eduardo Leite comes out as gay

However, critics note that Eduardo Leite has never apologized for backing Bolsonaro in the 2018 election.

Governor Eduardo Leite
Governor Eduardo Leite – Photo: Facebook.

Eduardo Leite, the governor of the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and a potentially high-profile challenger to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, has come out as gay.

Leite, 36, from the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party, made the announcement during an interview with Brazil’s top broadcaster, TV Globo, last Thursday. 

“I’m gay — and I’m a governor who is gay rather than a gay governor,” Leite said in the interview. “Just as Obama in the United States wasn’t a Black president, but a president who was Black. And I’m proud of this.”

Leite’s announcement is a significant development in a country that has become infamous internationally for its homophobia and violence directed against members of the LGBTQ community.

As governor, Leite represents a state where Bolsonaro won during the first round of balloting in 2018 and got more than 60% of the vote in the top-two runoff election. He hopes to challenge Bolsonaro — who has proudly boasted of his homophobic attitudes — in next year’s presidential election.

Leite said he had nothing to hide, but hoped that his sexual orientation would be “a non-issue” in next year’s election.

Even prior to coming out, Leite found himself on the receiving end of Bolsonaro’s homophobia when the president suggested that the governor may have hidden federal resources in his anus, reports The Guardian. Leite told TV Globo he is considering filing a criminal complaint abut the remark.

“Now, with my participation in national politics, in this national debate, there have been ever-growing attacks by my rivals,” he said. “I go out to dinner with my boyfriend, I do not hide from anyone. But there has always been some brouhaha, some allusion, a joke from the president, attacks from other politicians. This is not right, it is not correct, it is not tolerable.”

RelatedBrazil’s anti-gay president allegedly said masks are for ‘f****ts.’ He now has COVID-19.

However, despite Leite’s purported wishes of downplaying his orientation, it is very likely that his sexuality will become weaponized in a country where a religious resurgence has been underway for the past decade, coupled with a right-wing political backlash to 16 years of liberal-leaning policies, from 2003 to 2019, under former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, both of the Worker’s Party.

He additionally faces an uphill struggle because his party, which for years was the chief opposition party to the Worker’s Party, garnered less than 5 percent of the vote in the first-round of the 2018 election, with many of its more conservative supporters instead affiliating with Bolsonaro’s far-right wing/fascist Social Liberal Party.

Leite’s coming out was praised in some circles, with Fabiano Contarato, Brazil’s first openly gay senator, tweeting: “I know the pain the prison of the closet represents, particularly in a conservative environment like politics.”

“Admiration and respect for my friend @EduardoLeite_” tweeted São Paulo governor Joao Doria, another potential candidate hoping to represent the Brazilian Social Democratic Party in next year’s election.

Leite thanked supporters for their warm wishes, tweeting: “The countless messages of affection and support that I’m receiving leave me absolutely convinced: love will defeat hatred!”

Leite’s announcement was also viewed skeptically by activists on the left who have spent the past two years vocally opposing Bolsonaro and his “reforms,” which include rolling back protections for LGBTQ Brazilians.

Many recalled how Leite said, on the eve of the 2018 election, that he would vote for Bolsonaro even though he was not “100% comfortable” with his ideas. At the time, he tried to cast the decision as a “democratic gesture” of goodwill towards the presidential frontrunner. 

Jean Wyllys, the first openly gay member of Brazil’s congress who was forced to resign and flee Brazil due to death threats from right-wing detractors, told The Guardian that Leite has never repented for backing Bolsonaro, who had spent decades “perpetrating the most vile and sordid kind of homophobia.”

“This [guy] had many opportunities to defend the LGBT community and he didn’t,” Wyllys told the British newspaper. “On the contrary … he was a Bolsonarista until yesterday — and he’s probably still one today, because at no point has he retracted his support for Bolsonaro. So I don’t celebrate [his coming out]. I’m not part of this team of people who are commemorating this [guy] coming out of the closet as if it was some great accomplishment for Brazil’s LGBT community.”

He also called Leite’s announcement a “strategic move” to boost his political profile.

Jair Bolsonaro – Photo: Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil

Bolsonaro seemed to echo those thoughts, telling supporters that Leite came out as a “business card” for the upcoming elections, according to Reuters.

“I have nothing against his private life, but he cannot impose his lifestyle on others,” said Bolsonaro.

The president — whose anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has been blamed by those on the left for contributing to an atmosphere where LGBTQ individuals are regularly victims of violence — has infamously said that he’d prefer his son to die in an accident or be a drug addict than be gay. He’s claimed his children are not homosexual because they are “well educated.”

Bolsonaro has threatened to hit gay men if he saw them kissing, claimed that the presence of gays drives down property values, and suggested that parents beat their sons if they act effeminately — which opponents have cited as an example of his encouraging anti-gay attitudes that led to an 8-year-old Brazilian boy being beaten to death by his father for exhibiting stereotypically feminine traits.

He has also accused same-sex couples of wanting to recruit children for sex, insisted that gay parents sexually abuse their children, and denied the existence of homophobia by accusing LGBTQ activists of fabricating claims that they are attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, when in fact their deaths are attributable to drug overdoses, prostitution, or intimate partner violence.

See also:

New York passes Gender Recognition Act, a comprehensive pro-LGBTQ law

Ohio governor allows doctors and nurses to deny care to LGBTQ patients

U.S. Supreme Court declines appeal from Washington florist who refused to serve gay couple

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