Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joseph Jay Sosa

Figure 1 2013 Protest Against Conversion Therapy Being Debated in Congress. Photograph by Author

In 2011 Joseph Jay Sosa received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Sao Paulo Has Never Been Pinker: Dilemmas in Representing LGBT People in the Public Sphere,” supervised by Dr. William Mazzarella. After Dr. Sosa received an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2017 he was able to return to the field the following year to aid engaged activities on “LGBT Statistical Activists in Brazil: Training New Activists for the LGBT Pride Survey”.

Public debates over state recognition of LGBT rights has been a contentious site for political action in Brazil over the past decade. These ‘sex wars’ have taken place over anti-discrimination legislation, but also through moral panics about sex education and queer artistic censorship. And they have taken place against an increasingly hostile remarks by high profile politicians as well as the highest number of reported anti-trans and anti-gay murders in the world. For activists connected to Brazil’s LGBT social movement, these changes represent a historical reversal of early social movement victories in Brazil’s democratic period.

Figure 2 2018 Workshop activity. Participants are asked to provide examples of the “lack of representativeness of LGBT+ agendas and bodies in politics.” Photograph by author

With support from the Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, I conducted fieldwork from 2011 to 2013 with São Paulo-based LGBT activists who participated in civil society organizations, in social media and protest publics, and in public administrative offices on the municipal, state, and federal level. In hearings, street protests, and in organizational meetings held in union halls, classrooms, and municipal health clinics, activists described what they characterized as increasing anti-sex attitudes in their daily lives and in the media they consumed. Activists had different names to describe a growing erotophobic conservatism that they noted in the political public sphere and sometimes in their daily lives.

Since 2013, Brazil has entered what scholars and observers have characterized as the “long Brazilian Crisis,”[1] fueled by economic instability, corruption scandals, and political controversies and a rapid partisan shift. Mass protests across the ideological spectrum have become part of Brazil’s urban and news media landscapes. The instability led to the highly polarizing removal from office of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president in 2016. In this context, ideological disputes over gender expression and sexuality have given a further cultural shape to this crisis and become a primary battleground in a highly polarized society. Moral panics over LGBT panics over artistic performances and educational policies have led to increasing censorship practices. In October 2018, presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro played upon a moral panic that the government wanted to implement a national public school curriculum teaching homosexuality and pedophilia to children. The successful disinformation campaign was a large factor in Bolsonaro’s electoral success.

With the support of a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I return to São Paulo in 2018 in order to re-engage with activists and community members about how queer life and politics had changed since my original fieldwork. I partnered with a community organization, Vota LGBT, a non-partisan collective of activists, researchers, and media producers who collect and publish information on the political views of the LGBT population. The collective was formed in 2014, and included university student activists with whom I had previously conducted fieldwork. Together, we presented information about the current challenges facing trans and queer communities in Brazil as well as current social movement campaigns to improve the lives of LGBT Brazilians. Vota LGBT also used the opportunity to show community members their data collection techniques and explored ways community members might generate research projects meaningful to them. In our four presentations, open discussion with led to different outcomes. In one meeting, we participated in a brainstorming exercise, where individuals mapped their most pressing needs on local and federal levels (see images 2 and 3). At another workshop, participants developed questions they would like to employ in future community surveys.

Figure 3 Session leaders discuss potential topics raised by participants. Photograph by author.

Although survey data is regularly collected by researchers regarding LGBT domestic status, violence victimization rates, and even consumer habits, less information has been conducted around their views on pressing social and political questions. Vota LGBT conducts crowd surveys at Queer Pride events in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Vota LGBT  hopes to increase its surveys and expand the reach of LGBT perspectives into Brazil’s news media.

[1] See Grigera, Juan, Jeffery R. Webber, Ludmila Abilio, Ricardo Antunes, Marcelo Badaró Mattos, Sabrina Fernandes, Rodrigo Nunes, Leda Paulani, and Sean Purdy. 2019. “The Long Brazilian Crisis: A Forum.” Historical Materialism 27 (2): 59–121.