Gays from the favela do not take advantage of any advances

'We are still fighting for our lives' says a transsexual activist.

This is how Gilmara Cunha, a transsexual activist based in Complexo da Maré, in the north area of Rio de Janeiro, positions herself regarding the differences between being a LGBT in the "asphalt" of the south area and in the favela.

"There, they can report prejudice, aggression, and there is even the chance of punishment. We have no way of doing that here. We are in a lawless land. It is another reality, with other risks", says the 31-year-old carioca who, on the 8th of December, will be the first transsexual to receive the Tiradentes Medal, the highest fluminense honour, awarded by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Alerj) for services provided to the community.

Defended in the plenary session by the state deputy Flávio Serafini (PSOL), the medal is a way of recognising the work performed by the activist. "Gilmara gives voice to the deeply hidden LGBT population in the favelas. And demands actions and respect for the population from the different levels of public authorities", says the congressman.
In an interview with BBC Brazil, she told a little of her personal story, which merges with that of activism and the maturing of the LGBT issue in favelas.

Born in Complexo do Alemão and living in Maré since the age of three, she was a choir girl and spent her adolescence in a fraternity of the Catholic Church in Marília, in the interior of the State of São Paulo, until coming out as being homosexual, and later transsexual.

Creator, in 2006, of the first NGO committed to the LGBT cause in the favelas of Brazil – Conexão G –, Gilmara has gained more and more visibility and today is the national councillor for youth, and is also part of state and municipal bodies. She is also often invited to public hearings and to give speeches in different parts of the country and even in the United States and Argentina.

In Maré, she has already organised six LGBT parades, gathering 30 thousand people, and has a constant flow of activities and links actions with new groups that arise in different favelas in Rio, and has already won an award from the Ministry of Health for her work.

Presenting herself as "poor, black and from the favela, and very proud of that", to her, the LGBT in the communities are "far from being included" by public policies or from "being remembered" in campaigns and centres against homophobia or for health promotion.

"Gays and lesbians from the favela are not a priority. Transvestites and transsexuals even less", she says.

Holding hands and kissing? I would say this is almost impossible inside the favela. It may happen, but there will certainly be repression, which may go from getting a look of disapproval to swearing. I, for example, do not hold my husband's hand.

And obviously, the prejudice is always worse for transvestites and transsexuals than for gays and lesbians. You may see that university transvestite vice-chancellors are appearing, with prominent positions, but we still remain in a sphere of discrimination. The magnitude of rights and greater respectability is not yet being dealt with.

As they are very vulnerable, many transsexuals are murdered in Brazil. In the end, we know that killing a transvestite will lead to nothing, because there is this negative stereotype of a mugger, thief, criminal. In fact, society supports those who kill transvestites. There is a true extinction of transsexuals and society simply doesn't care.

What about the medal and the future? To me, the medal represents the fact that the LGBT can no longer be ignored in the favelas.

I have always presented myself as being from the favela. I sleep and wake up with the word favela in my mouth. I am an inhabitant of a favela, not of a community, because community is an academic term. Calling it a community will not minimise the fact that I live in the favela, therefore, I am from a favela. Poor, black and from the favela, and very proud of that.

My dream is to create a centre of reference within the Complexo da Maré with all sorts of activities, counselling, services and healthcare, and with a place where homophobia can be reported. Also with the qualification of agents so that we can build a network. I am working towards this.

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