RIO DE JANEIRO – The record number of openly gay Olympic athletes has boosted the acceptance of Brazil’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community amid a backlash over same-sex marriages, homosexuals said.
With the largest total of openly gay athletes participating, 49 according to Outsports magazine in July and double the number of London in 2012, Rio 2016 has seen the first married gay couple competing and a lesbian marriage proposal at a medal ceremony.
Brazil’s courts have recognized civil unions between homosexuals but its Congress has opposed the legalization of same-sex marriages.
The LGBT community hopes the high-profile example of Olympic athletes can help change attitudes in the country.
The coming-out of world-class athletes, such as U.S. basketball player Elena Delle Donne, who announced her engagement to a woman days before the games, raised the visibility of the gay cause in the positive light of sports, said Brazilian visual artist Murilo Sousa.
Dressed as a mermaid with shells covering his nipples, Sousa won a competition on Sunday at the Danish Pavilion on Rio’s Ipanema beach to celebrate diversity at the games.
“The LGBT community in Brazil is going to have another face besides Carnival. Now we will (be identified with) sport which is healthy, constructive, educational,” he told Reuters.
He added that homosexuality, a taboo issue in traditional families, could now become a dinner table topic of conversation.
Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that homosexuals in stable relationships have the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to retirement benefits, inheritance and alimony.
However, same-sex marriages have not been legalized and Congress is moving in the opposite direction with a family bill backed by Evangelical Christians that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“Right-wing politicians are attacking the LGBT community very hard,” Sousa said.
Women’s rugby made its debut in Rio and Brazilian player Isadora Cerullo melted hearts last week when she accepted a marriage proposal from her girlfriend who was working at the medals ceremony.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said the marriage proposal furthered the IOC’s efforts to remove sexual discrimination from the games.
The winner of Brazil’s first gold medal in Rio last week, judoka Rafaela Silva, highlighted the plight of a lesbian who faced sexual and racist discrimination to rise from a slum to Olympic glory.
Two days after her flawless performance in five matches turned her into a national hero, Silva, 24, discussed for the first time in public her relationship of three years with her girlfriend in an interview with Globo television.
Male chauvinist aggression in poor neighborhoods force lesbians to be discreet about their love lives, said Juno Griz, attending the Ipanema mermaid competition with her girlfriend.
“To be a white, rich lesbian is acceptable but a poor lesbian living on the margins of Brazilian society will continue to suffer,” Griz said.
“This visibility is very important but violence against gays will continue. Unfortunately there is a long way to go still. It does not stop here with the Olympics.”