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Openly gay Brazil congressman leaves job, country amid death threats

A month before he was set to begin a third term, Congressman Jean Wyllys announced on Thursday that he was currently outside Brazil and would not return.
Image: Jean Wyllys
Jean Wyllys, Rio de Janeiro federal deputy for the Socialism and Liberty Party, speaks during a rally in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on April 2, 2018.Mauro Pimentel / AFP - Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO — An openly gay congressman who frequently clashed with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Thursday he was leaving his job and the country because of mounting death threats.

In an interview published by daily Folha de S. Paulo, Congressman Jean Wyllys said he was currently outside of Brazil and had no plans to return. Instead, he said he would work in academia but did not say where.

Wyllys, who was re-elected in October and set to begin a third term in February, said death threats against him had increased significantly since Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco was shot and killed along with her driver in March. Franco was a friend and ally of Wyllys.

Many in Latin America’s largest nation saw Franco, who was black, bisexual and hailed from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most violent slums, as a symbol of hope for her strong advocacy for LGBTQ rights and outspoken criticism of police brutality in poor neighborhoods. Her death led to large protests in Brazil and in several countries.

Ten months later, no one has been arrested for her murder.

Since then, Wyllys, who represents Rio de Janeiro, has used a security detail.

“How is it that I’m going to live four years of my life inside an armored car and with bodyguards?” he said. “Four years of my life not being able to go to the places I usually go to?”

In a tweet that posted a link to the Folha de S. Paulo article, Wyllys said: “Preserving a threatened life is also a strategy to fight for better days.”

Contacted by The Associated Press, an aide said Wyllys would not be making any further comment and declined to disclose the congressman’s location.

In Congress, Wyllys was frequently at odds with Bolsonaro, a congressman for 28 years with a long history of homophobic, racist and sexist comments.

In arguably their most public clash, Wyllys spit on Bolsonaro on the floor of the lower House of Deputies during the 2016 impeachment process of then-President Dilma Rousseff. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, voted for Rousseff’s impeachment while giving tribute to a former colonel who tortured Rousseff when she was jailed as a guerrilla fighter during the dictatorship.

In the interview, Wyllys said his decision to leave wasn’t because of Bolsonaro’s rise, but rather the climate of heated rhetoric and intensifying violence toward members of the LGBTQ community in the wake of last year’s heated campaigns.

Wyllys said that former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, learning of the death threats, told him: ”‘Be careful, man. Martyrs are not heroes.’”

“It’s exactly that,” said Wyllys. “I don’t want to sacrifice myself.”

Wyllys’ post could be filled by David Miranda, an openly gay Rio de Janeiro councilman from the same leftist Socialism and Liberty Party.