‘I Have to Stay Alive’: Gay Brazilian Lawmaker Gives Up Seat Amid Threats
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — An openly gay federal lawmaker in Brazil who has frequently clashed with the country’s new far-right president said on Thursday that he was giving up his seat because of death threats.
The lawmaker, Jean Wyllys, a fierce advocate for gay rights who was due to be sworn in for a third term in February, said in an interview with the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that “this environment isn’t safe for me” after the assassination of a political ally last March and violence that followed the election of the president, Jair Bolsonaro, in October.
“For the future of this cause,” Mr. Wyllys said, “I have to stay alive. I don’t want to be a martyr.” He added that he was currently on vacation abroad and did not plan to return to Brazil.
Mr. Wyllys called Mr. Bolsonaro, a former colleague of his in the lower house of Congress, “a president who always vilified me, who always openly insulted me, who was always homophobic with me.”
In 2016, Mr. Wyllys responded by spitting at Mr. Bolsonaro during the hearing to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. Mr. Bolsonaro, before reinventing himself as a fighter of political corruption and rampant violence, was best known for delivering verbal attacks on women, black people and gay people from the congressional floor.
Shortly after Mr. Wyllys’ interview was published, Mr. Bolsonaro, who was in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, tweeted “Great day!” and a thumbs-up emoticon. Supporters weighed in, many with homophobic comments.
Mr. Wyllys has been the target of death threats for years, but he said those threats had become more severe after Marielle Franco, a human rights advocate who was his friend and political ally, was assassinated.
Last March, Ms. Franco, a councilwoman for the city of Rio de Janeiro, was shot and killed alongside her driver while returning from an event focused on empowering young black women. After the murder, Mr. Wyllys requested state protection and was provided a bulletproof car and police escort for official events.
“I never believed the death threats against me would actually be carried out,” Mr. Wyllys said. “But when this execution of Marielle happened, I had a sense of the seriousness.”
Ahead of the elections last year, Mr. Wyllys was repeatedly targeted with false rumors on social media accusing him of promoting pedophilia. And as Mr. Bolsonaro took the lead in a first round of voting in Brazil’s presidential race, there were scores of politically motivated assaults. Mr. Bolsonaro won by a wide margin in a second-round vote at the end of October.
“It wasn’t specifically his election. It was the increase in violence after he was elected,” Mr. Wyllys said.
A tally by the investigative journalism group Agência Pública tracked more than 70 attacks in the first 10 days of October. While most of the reports involved attackers who appeared to support Mr. Bolsonaro, six of his backers have also said they were targeted.
In November, the Organization of American States ordered the Brazilian government to provide further protection for Mr. Wyllys, arguing that the increased death threats posed an imminent risk to his life.
Mr. Wyllys will be replaced by David Miranda, an openly gay councilman from the city of Rio who is the husband of the American journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Mr. Miranda tweeted a response to Mr. Bolsonaro on Thursday: “Check your emotions. One LGBT is leaving, but another is entering,” he wrote. “See you in Brasília.”