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Brazil's largest city draws hundreds of thousands for Pride march

São Paulo hosts one of the world’s biggest pride parades, and a massive crowd attended its first since the election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Image: People attend the Sao Paulo Pride Parade in Brazil on June 23, 2019.
People attend the Sao Paulo Pride Parade in Brazil on June 23, 2019.Rebeca Figueiredo Amorim / Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of people filled a main São Paulo thoroughfare for one of the world's largest LGBTQ pride parades — the first since the election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Nineteen moving stages dotted the avenue with live performances by well-known Brazilian artists, while supporters cheered speeches by LGBTQ activists encouraging resistance to the wave of conservative politics that has swept Brazil.

Participants collectively carried a huge rainbow flag down the avenue, with many more sporting rainbow hats, bracelets and T-shirts. The parade was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City.

"Because of all we went through with the election, this is one of the most important pride parades to show that we are here, we are going to continue here to exist and resist," said Diego dos Santos Oliveira, one of the parade's organizers.

Many of those attending took aim at Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who took office as Brazil's president Jan. 1 and once described himself as a "proud homophobe."

"I will do everything I can do with my voice for you all, because we're in this together," singer Luísa Sonza told the crowds. "Long live love! Not him!" she screamed, using an anti-Bolsonaro rallying cry.

Some parade-goers carried signs calling for the president's ouster. "We won't be in the closet, nor in a grave. Out with Bolsonaro," read one banner.

"We need to change society's way of thinking," Patricia Luzivo said as she watched the parade. "So many people are dying for coming out of the closet and being homosexual."

While São Paulo hosts one of the world's largest pride parades and Rio de Janeiro is a well-known gay tourist destination, LGBTQ people in Brazil suffer high levels of violence. According to activist group Grupo Gay Bahia, 141 LGBT people were killed in homophobic crimes or committed suicide between January and May 15 of this year — an average of one every 23 hours.

Many activists say Bolsonaro's anti-gay rhetoric incites or legitimizes violence against LGBTQ people. He once said he would rather have a dead son than a gay son, and he made headlines in April when he told reporters that Brazil "can't be a country of the gay world, of gay tourism."

LGBTQ activists won a major battle this month when Brazil's Supreme Court voted to criminalize discrimination against homosexuals and transgender people.

Bolsonaro criticized the ruling as "totally wrong" and said it will "deepen class wars." He also said the decision would hurt LGBTQ people because employers would be less inclined to hire LGBTQ employees because they could be taken to court "if they make a joke."