PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Faced with the scourge of being the country in the Americas where the most lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transvestites (LGBTs) are murdered, some Brazilian prisons have adopted measures to protect such inmates from violence by separating them from the other prisoners.
That is the case of the Central Penitentiary of the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, once named the country’s worst for its overcrowded installations, but which in 2012 became the second prison in Brazil to open a cell block exclusively for gays, bisexuals and transvestites.
“It’s a way to protect human dignity and also a chance for the government to protect the rights of prisoners and their sexual orientation, and to avoid any prejudice in the way they must serve their sentences,” Public Defender Lizandro Wottrich said on the day the new cell block was inaugurated.
Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world after the United States, China and Russia, and according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), was the country with the most LGBTs murdered in the Americans in 2016, with 350 slain.
The cell block for gays in Porto Alegre currently holds 28 inmates.
“Until five years ago, gays served their sentences together with other convicts, always with those who had committed sex crimes. Until then, gay prisoners suffered all kinds of physical and psychological oppression,” Fred, a spokesman for LGBT inmates, told EFE.
“We’re seen differently, and though our cell block isn’t overcrowded, at the same time we feel excluded. The other prisoners are very prejudiced, they don’t accept us,” said Anderson, a gay inmate who preferred not to reveal his last name.
Nor do they get any support or sympathy from the wives of the prisoners, Anderson said, because “they see us like their husbands’ lovers, which we’re not.”
“We’re very much discriminated against. We walk down a corridor and get insults, aggression... sometimes they cut us with knives. If on visiting day I put on makeup like a woman and the wife of a prisoner sees me and tells her husband, that becomes a reason to attack me,” he said.
But for Fred, the all-gay cell block serves to “inhibit that kind of oppression so we can serve our sentences with dignity and in peace, without suffering that kind of humiliation.”
He is convinced that “the fact that we now have our own cell block has helped us win the respect of the other cell blocks.”