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Rio de Janeiro: the most gay friendly destination in the world?

Nicole Froio

117381089 300x199 Rio de Janeiro: the most gay friendly destination in the world?The authorities in Rio de Janeiro are aiming turn the city into the most gay friendly destination in the world. The government is launching innovative projects to attract this profitable branch of tourism – but is Rio really ready to be transformed into a gay vacation paradise?

A video designed to promote the city to precisely that demographic shows homosexual couples openly holding hands and kissing in the beach, in restaurants and in the streets of Rio, depicting it as the ultimate love destination. But it might not be as it is advertised.

Just last May, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro printed 50,000 anti-gay pamphlets to distribute in the schools of Rio. Bolsonaro had been avidly protesting against a bill that would have teaching children about homosexuality in Brazilian schools. The project to promote equality was eventually abandoned due to Bolsonaro’s and other politicians’ belief that the material would make the children homosexual.

These and many other incidents caused me to doubt whether the city could really welcome homosexuals from all over the world, coming from countries where the issue of sexual diversity is probably more advanced. Carlos Tufvesson, Sexual Diversity Coordinator of Rio’s government, says that the city is naturally evolving to be gay friendly – and that the campaigns are only trying to shape that.

“Gay tourism in Rio de Janeiro is a growing reality. Last year, we had 880.000 gay tourists and research shows 90% satisfaction. Rio is more than a destination; it offers a lifestyle that reasons with the LGBT community,” he said.

Last week, the city’s mayor Eduardo Paes went as far as to say Rio is a city “without prejudice”; having heard otherwise, I asked Tufvesson if he disagreed with the absolute wording of the mayor.

“Rio is an inclusive city. Prejudice is present everywhere, the difference is that the authorities can’t let it go unpunished. There is a law here that forbids commercial establishments to discriminate against citizens for their sexual orientation or to force them to be more discrete regarding public displays of affection”.

“There is always work to be done,” he explains when examples of homophobia that happened in the city are pointed out, “This is why the mayor has created the Special Sexual Diversity Coordination.”

“We have a strong campaign to educate the people that is linked to artists and opinion-makers against all kinds of prejudice, because this is how we will have a better response regarding homophobia.”

But is this just an effort being done because of a trend? There is no denying the issue of gay rights is one of the hottest issues of the moment – is this the reason why it is only being dealt with now, because it is profitable? Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in particular has a history of only dealing with problems on the surface so that the situation looks good from the outside – is this another issue where its complex roots will be buried even deeper?

The premise is certainly good and should help many homosexuals who are confronted with homophobia in Brazil everyday – if this sort of prejudice becomes condemnable, a lot less of it should be seen. The only problem is the lack of commitment for a true education of the population; it’s all wonderful to have a couple of TV advertisements against homophobia now but what happens when the issue isn’t so hot?

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