420 Day In Brazil: Why LGBT Rights Are A Focus Of Weed Celebration

LGBT brazil weed
A demonstrator with facepaint of cannabis takes part in a pro-marijuana legalization march in Brasilia May 23, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Thousands of Brazilians will celebrate 4/20 this week, but few could tell you why they’re coming out for pot at the end of April. There’s no 420 police code in Brazil, and like most other countries they write April 20th as 20/4 anyway. In fact, because of Mother’s Day and annual soccer championships, the date f 4/20 gets shuffled. This year 4/20 is really on 4/23. Last year it was a week into May. There’s another huge quirk in Brazil’s pro-marijuana movement: a natural synergy with gay rights.

At last year’s Marijuana March in São Paulo, for example, a more common chant among the thousands of red-eyed protesters was “Hypocrisy there’s a lot -- homophobia is legal but you can’t smoke pot.” (Quanta hipocrisia! Maconha é crime, mas não a homofobia). Homophobia might be a bit of an understatement. Not only are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered folk routinely discriminated against on the job and in the streets, but they are also disproportionately the victims of violence. At the same time, a huge source of violence in Brazil is perpetrated by criminals and the police that are trying to catch them, i.e. the Drug War.

“The current policy of a ‘war against drugs is dysfunctional. Billions of [dollars] are spent to combat trafficking, but consumption only goes up. This policy has a disastrous collateral effect, increasing violence in Brazil and neighboring countries, affecting, above all, youth from [low-income neighborhoods],” Maurício Moraes, a Federal Deputy from São Paulo, said last year during his election campaign, which focused on a pro-marijuana, anti-homophobia platform.

Moraes, who is openly gay, often discussed the two issues in tandem. For example, in one campaign commercial his team starts with a legalization hook -- “Everyone knows someone who’s smoked a joint” -- and ends with a pro-LGBT position -- “the LGBT population doesn’t always have their rights respected.”

Others point out that while the movements share constituencies, there are more LGBT activists interested in marijuana legalization than the other way around. However, despite their enthusiasm for glitter, it's probably that the pro-marijuana vote helped Moraes get elected, elevating both issues.

“They are separate movements, however, I can affirm that [people in] the LGBT movement are present in the Marijuana March, but Marijuana March[ers] are aren’t a strong presence in the São Paulo Gay Pride Parade,” Helcio Beuclair, 29, of São Paulo told the Latin Times.

Beuclair, a journalist and activist, says that he goes to the marijuana march every year. But it’s not his top priority. He helps curate a Facebook page that records anti-LGBT attacks, pro-LGBT protests and Pat Robertsonesque homophobia from prominent Brazilian conservatives that blame gays for everything from social decay to recent drought. (To be fair, those comments are also Ovadia Yosefesque and Louis Farrakhanesque). Activists like Beuclair and Moraes would like to see marijuana legalized and the drug war deescalated. Yet the right to get stoned doesn't seem as urgent as the right to practice one’s sex life unmolested. Brazil doesn’t have hate-crime laws, so lesbians targeted for rapes don’t have any extra protection. Hundreds of gay men have won asylum abroad, successfully making the case that they fear for their lives.

“Violence [includes murders] but it’s not just those assaults that end in death [that concern me]. [It’s also] physical and sexual assault, as well as psychological humiliation," said Beuclair.

 

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