Brazilian presidential hopeful Eduardo Leite comes out as gay
One of Brazil’s leading politicians, the presidential hopeful Eduardo Leite, has announced he is gay – a rare move celebrated by many as a triumph over prejudice in a country whose president has declared himself a proud homophobe.
Leite, the 36-year-old governor of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, made the announcement on Thursday night during an interview with the country’s top broadcaster, TV Globo.
“I’m gay – and I’m a governor who is gay rather than a gay governor. Just as Obama in the United States wasn’t a black president, but a president who was black. And I’m proud of this,” said Leite, from the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic party (PSDB).
The politician, who hopes to challenge the far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, in next year’s presidential election, said he had nothing to hide, but wished sexual orientation was “a non-issue” in Brazil.
Leite’s revelation sparked an outpouring of support from activists and fellow politicians. “I know the pain the prison of the closet represents, particularly in a conservative environment like politics,” tweeted Fabiano Contarato, who became Brazil’s first openly gay senator in 2018.
“You’ve made history,” the veteran LGBT campaigner Toni Reis wrote on Facebook.
Leite thanked people for their support, tweeting: “The countless messages of affection and support that I’m receiving leave me absolutely convinced: love will defeat hatred!”
Not everyone celebrated Leite’s revelation, with many activists remembering how Leite had supported Bolsonaro in the 2018 election despite the populist’s notorious history of homophobia.
In a 2013 interview with Stephen Fry – which the British actor later called “one of the most chilling confrontations I’ve ever had with a human being” – Bolsonaro proclaimed: “Brazilian society doesn’t like homosexuals.”
Jean Wyllys, who was the first openly gay member of Brazil’s congress to fight for LGBT rights, said Leite had never repented for backing Bolsonaro, who had spent decades “perpetrating the most vile and sordid kind of homophobia”.
Wyllys said: “This chap had many opportunities to defend the LGBT community and he didn’t. On the contrary … he was a Bolsonarista until yesterday – and he’s probably still one today, because at no point has he retracted his support for Bolsonaro.
“So I don’t celebrate this. I’m not part of this team of people who are commemorating this chap coming out of the closet as if it was some great accomplishment for Brazil’s LGBT community.” Wyllys went on to call Leite’s announcement a strategic move designed to boost his presidential hopes.
Renan Quinalha, a lawyer and LGBT activist, said he welcomed Leite’s announcement on a personal level. “It’s really cool that a guy can discover himself and accept who he is – and find the strength and courage to do so – because it isn’t an easy process. As a gay man, I know what it was like for me … so it’s important to applaud this. I also think it is objectively really positive that Brazil’s new generations see a governor … coming out as gay. Visibility helps.”
But Quinalha was troubled by Leite’s decision to describe himself as “a governor who is gay” and not a “gay governor”. “It’s not just a play on words … he’s clearly sketching a dividing line between certain gay existences that are legitimate, and others that are not,” Quinalha said, questioning why Leite had not simply said: “I’m gay. Full stop.”
Leite declared he would vote for Bolsonaro on the eve of the 2018 election despite claiming he was not “100% comfortable” with his ideas. He called the decision “a democratic gesture”, but insisted he represented “the politics of love, not hate”.
Last month, Leite found himself on the receiving end of Bolsonaro’s homophobia – which activists blame for a rise in anti-LGBT violence – when Brazil’s president suggested to supporters the governor might have concealed federal resources in his anus. Leite told TV Globo he was considering whether to file a criminal complaint.