Recognition as a Person before the Law
ARTICLE SIX: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
Brazil: a country of beaches, sunshine, and friendly people. But beneath the beautiful surface run deep currents of discrimination and hatred and a long history of homophobia. Up until the 1990's, the prevailing opinion in Brazilian society held that homosexuality was a sickness, a sin, or an addiction.
Adauto Belarmino Alves faced this discrimination his whole life. As president of the leading gay-rights organization in Brazil, he received numerous death threats but he kept on fighting against violence and ignorance all the way up to his death from AIDS in the late 1990's. Now there are more than 70 organisations like his in Brazil, bringing a new sense of hope, pride, and courage to homosexuals throughout the country.
They continue Adauto's mission, trying to establish recognition for themselves, working to be treated with justice and dignity, asking only to be accepted for what they are. Read his story.
Brazil is a country of beautiful beaches and friendly, happy people, but it is also a place of deep discrimination against homosexuals. Until the beginning of the 1990's, Brazil was a place where homosexuals could not walk peacefully in the streets, could not show their sexual orientation, and could not enjoy the same rights that heterosexual persons had. Homophobia, which is the fear and hatred of homosexuality, used to be, and to some extent still is, a sad reality within Brazilian civil and political society.
Homophobic behavior includes extreme feelings, beliefs and attitudes against homosexuals, from humiliating name-calling to professional disadvantages and physical violence. The majority of the persons who commit physical assaults against homosexuals in Brazil and elsewhere are police and groups of young people. In some cases, homosexuals have been killed by this violence.
Until recently Brazilian law made homosexual practices and behavior a criminal offense that carried a jail sentence. Homosexuals were dismissed from the military. For an official to be homosexual was regarded as misconduct, as the honor of police and military was allegedly jeopardized if homosexuals were accepted in their ranks. Churches even tried to institute programs that would '"reprogram" homosexuals.
Brazilian homosexuals were not only excluded from society, but were also harshly discriminated against. They had no opportunity to show their feelings, and if they dared to do so, they were strongly reprimanded. This situation needed to change, and to some extent it has changed.
Adauto Belarmino Alves is recognized as an important crusader in Brazilian gays' fight for their rights.
Everything started with his own experience of discrimination. As a gay youth, he was deeply ostracised by society and could not find a way to express his own feelings or sexual orientation without great risk. It was when he knew of homosexuals that were brutally killed simply because of their sexual orientation that Adauto Alves decided to take action for his and all homosexuals' rights. He stood up to be recognised for who he was, proud and unafraid. His fight was a fight against the ignorance and discrimination, and on behalf of peace and human dignity.
In 1986 Adauto helped to found Atobá the leading gay-rights organisation in Brazil. He became its president, inspiring others and coordinating activities among national gay and lesbian groups to fight the violence that they were facing daily.
Soon Adauto Alves became one of the most energetic and committed activists for gay rights in Brazil, fearlessly participating in assemblies and marches. Even after receiving numerous death threats and actual physical attacks, he refused to give up. In fact, he lobbied to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Adauto Alves also challenged the whole of Brazilian society when, in March of 1994, he entered and his partner into the first Brazilian marriage between two men. It was a remarkable event that showed the Brazilian community homosexuals do not accept the stigma that society imposes on them and that they challenge traditional standards in the fight for their rights.
Adauto Alves died in late 1990's from AIDS.
His contribution to the gay liberation movement did not die with him, however. He will always be seen as an important figure in the fight for gay rights in Brazil. Today more than 70 recognised organisations fight for homosexual rights in that country. These organizations, including Atobá;, have been developing materials for raising the consciousness of Brazilian society about gay people's situation and rights, providing advice for gays who have been discriminated against and giving people ways to prevent violence against homosexuals.
The homosexual movement is getting stronger and stronger each day. Now, homosexuals in Brazil have their space in the cultural world and, to a certain extent, in the political sphere. Laws now prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and there are plans to bring equality for homosexuals in the sphere of marriage. Of course, not everything is a "bed of roses," and discrimination and hatred are still pervasive realities in Brazil. But Adauto Alves helped homosexuals to hope for a change, to take pride in themselves and to have the courage to stand up for their rights.
Adauto Alves was not the single most important person in the gay movement in Brazil. It may be that some new people within this movement do not know about him and his fight. But he never sought recognition for himself. He fought for the rights of all homosexuals to be treated with justice and dignity, and he made a strong beginning in the fight to win those rights.
LESSON FOR ARTICLE 6: CONFRONTING HOMOPHOBIA IN YOUR COMMUNITY
The violence and discrimination toward homosexuals that Adauto Alves faced is not exclusive to Brazil! Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people face similar abuse and oppression in many parts of the world. Is this true in your community? In your school? And if so, what can be done about this human rights violation. The activities in this lesson address all these questions as part of the right to recognition as a person before the law.
See also the lesson for Article 26, which includes an activity evaluating the general human rights climate of your school that could be adapted to address homophobia specifically.
PART 1: ACTIVITY: WORDS REALLY MATTER (1 hour)
Assign this part one week before the rest of the lesson.
1. Explain the Purpose of the Activity: Observe that language shapes how people perceive themselves, others and the world in general. Explain that this lesson is intended to make explicit the denotations and connotations of the language students see, hear and use to describe lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons.
2. Make the Assignment: One week prior to the lesson, students should work individually to record any example of language they see, hear or use in school connected to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons during the next week. In some cases, language may be used to describe a particular person, while in other cases it may be used to describe either a real or abstract group of people. In still other cases, the language may be used to describe something that has no connection to people (e.g., a classmate might describe a homework assignment as "gay" or "queer"). The language may be positive, negative or neutral in its connotation. Tell students that in one week the class will compile all the individually collected data and analyze it from different perspectives.
a) Distribute the handout "Words Around Us" and review with students how to collect data. Students should record the data so that they can get a sense of how often words about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are used. It may not be practical (or safe) for students to record in the presence of other people. In that case, they should record the information later. They may want to record all the data at the end of each day. At the minimum students should record information on a daily basis. Waiting until the end of the week will probably lead to forgetting many particular incidents.
b) Students should record the exact language they see, hear or use, even though they may be have strong feelings about the words they record. Stress the importance of accurate data. Remind students to make a note of their personal responses in the last column headed "Reactions."
c) Under the heading "Who Used," students should NOT write anyone's name. Instead they should record whether the language was used by a student, teacher, staff person or administrator.
d) Under the heading "Where Used," students should record in what part of the school the language was used (e.g., hallway, playground, classroom).
e) Under the heading "Intention," students should record the intention of the speaker using the language. Was the language used to describe without placing value on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons? Was it used to hurt, demonize or portray people in a negative light? Was it used to praise, celebrate or portray people in a positive light? Was the language used seriously, mockingly or comically? If students are unsure how to describe the intention, they should note that here also.
3. Compile and Analyze Collected Data: When students have had a week to gather data, make a list that combines their findings. Use the blackboard, an overhead transparency or a large chart paper version of the handout "Words Around Us" to record the class's data.
4. Discuss the Survey Results: After student have volunteered all the examples of language they heard in school, discuss some of the following topics:
What words and phrases are most commonly heard at our school to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons?
PART II: INTERRUPTING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT SCHOOL (1 hour)
Because the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth in schools in some cases constitutes human rights violations, it is important to interrupt such treatment. That means not participating in such violations and doing what we can to stop others when we see them perpetrating such acts. All students, not just sexual minority youth, have a responsibility to protect the human rights of al student in schools. For the majority of students and teachers this mean acting as an ally, someone willing to speak up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth. Taking a stand is not easy, however. In some cases students might fear for their own safety, in other cases, allies might fear being labeled homosexual themselves.
1. Discuss Ways of Interrupting Homophobia: Discuss some examples of homophobia recorded in Part I and how students and teachers, individually and collectively, can interrupt human rights violations.
a) As you brainstorm, think not only about how to react to violations as they occur or after the fact, but how to create a climate in school that supports respect for and celebration of student human rights.
b) Discuss the relative risks of the actions generated by students, given the climate of their school.
2. Chart Possible Responses to Homophobia: Use the matrix below, drawn on the chalkboard or on chart paper, to help the class organize its thinking.
3. Stress the Importance of Being Proactive: Point out that student and teachers have only a limited number of responses AFTER human rights violations of sexual minority your have occurred. Emphasize that when student and teacher act BEFORE, they have a wider range of options that can prevent violations from occurring in the first place.
Source: Adapted from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights: A Human Rights Perspective by David M. Donahue (University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, 2000).
TAKING ACTION ON ARTICLE 6
The lesson for Article 6 involves taking a hard look at attitudes and action in your school, in particular toward homosexuality. It also explores ways to responding to prejudice and violence against students who may or may not be homosexual, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, as well as other targeted groups.
1. INTERRUPTING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT SCHOOL: Because the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth in schools in some cases constitutes human rights violations, it is important to interrupt such treatment. That means not participating in such violations and doing what you can to stop others when you see others perpetrating such acts. All students, not just sexual minority youth, have a responsibility to protect the human rights of al student in schools. For the majority of students and teachers this mean acting as an ally, someone willing to speak up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth. Taking a stand is not easy, however. In some cases students might fear for their own safety, in other cases, allies might fear being labeled homosexual themselves.