Brazilian Trans Councilwoman Forced into Exile due to Death Threats
May 19, 2021
On May 13, 2021, it became known that Benny Briolly, the first transgender woman to sit on Niteroí’s City Council in the state of Rio de Janeiro, had left her country of Brazil after receiving continuous death threats.
Briolly, who is a Black member of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) in Brazil, received the most votes among the women elected to serve on the city council during the 2020 municipal elections.
To many, her election represented a direct confrontation with the patriarchal, misogynistic, and homophobic Brazilian state. Threats about Briolly’s well-being only continued to intensify after she was sworn into office. They have ranged from promises to cause her physical harm to death threats, and some messages had even included her residential address.
This is yet another unfortunate example of persecution in Brazil of activists and leaders of the LGBTQ community. Earlier this month on May 1, 2021, 25-year-old Lindolfo Kosmasky, an openly gay activist with the Landless Peasants Movement in the state of Paraná, was brutally shot and his body was burned.
On May 14, 2021 Briolly posted a video sharing the news of her temporary departure from Brazil, but also called upon the Brazilian government for answers and further investigation. In the video she says: “It is impossible to not have a response from the Brazilian government . . . . This cannot stay this way. Brazil’s cries, demonstrations, and popular revolt demand an answer, demand my physical
well-being, and demand that I, the woman most voted for Niteroí’s city council, be able to exercise my mandate with integrity . . . . We are still fighting.”
In the two-minute recorded video, Briolly says that one of the threats she received also mentioned she would suffer harm by Ronnie Lessa. Lessa is a retired police officer, who was arrested and is under investigation for his possible connection to the assassination on March 14, 2018 of Rio de Janeiro City Councilwoman Marielle Franco, a Black lesbian and outspoken community activist.
The councilwoman stated she has made formal complaints to national and international human rights organizations, and has taken the threats to law enforcement officials for investigation. It is unsure how long Briolly will be outside of Brazil, but she will continue exercising her role as councilwoman virtually.
Briolly joins the openly gay, Afro-Brazilian, three-time Congressional representative Jean Wyllys, also from Rio de Janeiro, who went into exile in late 2018 after receiving repeated, credible death threats. Wyllys has been an outspoken critic of the newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right politician and friend of Donald Trump.
For more information, contact James N. Green, National Co-Coordinator, US Network for Democracy in Brazil: James_Green@brown.edu