A footballer’s gay kiss reveals how little Brazil combats homophobia

emerson.emerson-publicou-foto-em-que-beija-amigo_1Football is a big part of Brazil’s daily life. Most of the qualities of our society are noticeable in the way we play the beautiful game and cheer for our sides. As a people, we are inventive, passionate and joyful. We can also be terribly disorganized, violent and self-absorbed.

Unlike Europe, Brazil has very little trouble with racism in the stadia — as a football fan I have never witnessed it in my 31 years of age. But there is loads of homophobia, which turns many people off the national sport. All that anger towards gays has come out of the closet after a famous local footballer kissed a business partner and published a picture on social media.

Neither are gay. And as you can see in the picture, that is no French kiss.

Brazilian sports media, with few noticeable exceptions, have chosen to be critical of Corinthians forward Émerson. Some say it is a personal matter at first, but soon find ways to condemn his posture. “He will be the joke of the dressing room,” one said. “Rivals are going to use this against him,” another said. “I’ve already told my children I would give them some spanking if they do anything like that,” a former club official admitted on national TV. When they are off the air they do the same homophobic jokes of the past.

About 55% of Brazilians are against more rights to gay couples, according to an important pollster. Although the Brazilian Supreme Court has decided to award gay couples new benefits and is on the way to rule on gay marriage, there are more and more cases of violence against homosexuals. In 2012, there were 13 assaults on gays nationwide, a rights group says. The same poll said most of homophobes were people of less formal education.

After the Supreme Court’s decisions in 2011, our very conservative Congress reacted. Religious lobbies and mismanagement by President Dilma Rousseff’s ruling party put a very conservative reverend as the chair of the Human Rights commission.  One of his goals is to stop legislation that criminalizes homophobia. Rousseff says nothing. She needs the conservatives to be reelected. In the last presidential elections, many of the same conservatives accused her of being an atheist lesbian that had come to split them. She dealt with them with care and put one of their guys in an irrelevant ministry. But the frictions have come back.

Those who elected the chairman of the Human Rights commission and many other conservatives do care about football. They say football is a man’s game (sorry to disappoint my American friends, but I mean our football, not yours). They make jokes about which club has the biggest gay support in the country. They call opposition fans “faggots” in many chants, as if it were the biggest insult possible. In an specific case, they refused support to one player because he was identified as a homosexual by a rival’s deputy chairman. Richarlyson, who has played for Brazil in friendly matches, has always denied the allegation.

No need for caption in this homophobic video

This is the macho environment that set the stage for the reaction to the infamous picture.

Striker Émerson is no activist. He is a Corinthians icon and a well-known womanizer who took a controversial shot for a laugh. But that sheer moment made homophobes show up at his training centre, prompted a wave of criticism among footballers and became the main issue in sports media since it was published on Instagram. Although Brazilian media is desperate to jump into debates on changing the law to punish under-18s more harshly, among other conservative discussions, it didn’t even consider a serious debate on homophobia. They chose to focus on what the player had done and forget the homophobic agenda.

I don’t believe Brazilian football or Brazilian society will change that much after that incident. It was just an update on how little the State has done to criminalize prejudice against homosexuals.

I am pretty sure racism exists in Brazil, but it isn’t nearly as aggressive as I saw in three tube incidents in London in just a year. Racism here isn’t as widespread as I could see in Argentina or Italy. But kicking out homophobia is surely a big challenge for a country that likes to be seen as a melting pot, not as a gender pot as well.   

About Mauricio Savarese

I am a Brazilian journalist who got tired of reporting only in Portuguese. Politics and football, these are my turfs. Twitter: @msavarese. Email: savarese.mauricio@gmail.com

Posted on 21/08/2013, in Football, Politics, Social and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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