Social Movements and Political Parties: Gays, Lesbians, and Travestis and the Struggle for Inclusion in Brazil
Marsiaj, Juan P., Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies
Abstract. The struggle for recognition and inclusion of gays, lesbians, and travestis (GLTs) into Brazilian society and politics emerged during the democratization process set in motion in the late 1970s. Part of this struggle has involved attempts at gaining access to and influence over political parties in order to push forward a pro-GLT agenda. This article examines and seeks to explain how political parties matter for the struggle of GLTs in Brazil, as well as the main patterns of support for and opposition to GLT rights across the left-right spectrum of political parties in Brazil. This article argues that while it is neither the sole nor main vehicle for progressive change, parties matter in generating policy and legislative change in favour of sexual minorities. While greater support can be found in leftist parties mainly for institutional and historical reasons, this support is not unanimous within the left. Religion and individual attitudes also help explain these patterns. Moreover, the same factors, coupled with electoral incentives, also shed light on the general opposition and occasional support from right-wing parties.
Resume. La lutte pour la reconnaissance et l'inclusion des gays, lesbiennes et transsexuels (GLT) dans la societe et la politique bresiliennes est apparue durant le processus de democratisation declenche a la fin des annees 1970. Une partie de cette lutte a eu pour but d'acceder aux partis politiques et a les influencer, cela pour favoriser les revendications pro-GLT. Cet article examine et cherche a expliquer l'importance des partis politiques dans la lutte des GLT au Bresil, ainsi que les principaux patrons d'appui et d'opposition aux droits des GLT au sein de la gauche. On affirme que, meme si les partis ne sont pas les seuls ni les plus importants vecteurs de changement social, ils jouent un role dans la production de changements politiques et legislatifs favorables aux minorites sexuelles. Alors que l'appui est plus significatif dans les partis de gauche, surtout pour des raisons institutionnelles et historiques, cet appui n'est pas unanime. La religion et les attitudes individuelles expliquent aussi ces patrons. D'ailleurs, les memes facteurs, associes a des incitatifs electoraux, permettent de mieux comprendre l'opposition generale et l'appui occasionnel des partis de droite.
The question of how social movements affect political institutions and, more broadly, promote social and political change has received significant scholarly attention in the recent past. The relationship between social movements, political parties, and the state is a complex one, working in multiple directions and across different dimensions simultaneously. As outlined in political opportunity and political process models, while social movements can have an impact on other mainstream political institutions through protest action or more direct engagement with these institutions, change in the configuration of the institutional framework may also generate new opportunities for those social movements (and perhaps their opponents) (Tarrow 1993, 1996, 1998; Kitschelt 1986; Tilly 1978; Engel 2001).
After the transitions away from authoritarian rule in Latin America in the 1980s, a number of scholars began to examine the emergence and development of social movements during the period of regime transition (Eckstein 2001b; Escobar and Alvarez 1992; Sader 1988). A large part of this literature, however, focused on the social movements themselves, on their internal development, on the construction of new identities, and on their autonomy vis-a-vis the state and political parties. It is only later, in the mid-1990s, as democratization processes developed further, that studies started to give more attention to the relationship between social movements and the formal political and state institutions, in addition to questions related to culture and identity (Alvarez, Dagnino, and Escobar 1998; Roberts 1997; Oxhorn 2001). According to Haber (1997, 124), a move away from more culturalist analyses was needed for a better understanding of the impact of social movements on institutional arrangements and practices. Others have indicated that a deeper understanding of the characteristics of state-civil society relations is a key factor in assessing the quality of democratization in Latin America (Friedman and Hochstetler 2002).
The democratization process in Brazil, as in other Latin American countries, brought about a liberalization of the political party system. Because political parties are key actors in the struggle for state power and in struggles for representation of groups in society, examining their relationship with social movements is important to gain a more thorough comprehension of the opportunities the democratization process makes available to marginalized groups. (2) As Mainwaring points out (1999), even in cases where parties are weak, as he believes to be the case in Brazil, their study is important for a proper analysis of the prospects for democratization. At least theoretically, even when parties are mostly vehicles for politicians to increase their access to patronage and the relationship between societal groups and politicians is based on personalistic and clientelistic ties, parties are significant to state-society relations. Because access to the resources that feed clientelistic ties is achieved through elections, and because parties, even when weak, are important actors in electoral competition, they are very helpful for an analysis of the struggle for power among groups in society. In more established democracies in Western Europe, studies have shown that the position political parties take in regard to social movements often has a substantial impact on movements' chances of success (della Porta and Rucht 1995; Kriesi 1995).
Political parties are also important for analyzing which groups have influence over and are included in the decision-making processes that define public policy and legislation. These policies and laws, in turn, are key to the protection of marginalized groups against discrimination and abuses and to the guarantee of their human rights. As will be explored below, other paths to inclusion are also available to social movements representing marginalized groups. For example, in the case of racial politics in Brazil, the significant policy changes implemented during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso presidency (1994-2002) to tackle the problem of racism had less to do with the official position of the president's party than with other factors, such as presidential initiative, global norms and values, and the activity of issue networks (Htun 2004). Nevertheless, as the development of the women's movement in Brazil indicates (Alvarez 1990), political parties should not be dismissed as a vehicle for change.
This article addresses these issues by asking how political parties matter for the struggle for inclusion of gays, lesbians, and travestis (GLTs) in the political decision-making process in Brazil. (3) Are parties an effective vehicle for social and political change for sexual minorities? How is support for GLT rights distributed along the left-right spectrum, and what are the main reasons behind this pattern of support? While political parties are not the sole or main avenue for change open to GLTs in Brazil, they play a significant role in the recognition and visibility of sexual minorities as political actors in the political field and in promoting policy and legislative change in favour of GLTs.
The analysis presented below will show that a greater level of support for GLT rights is found among leftist parties, while rightwing parties tend to be opposed to them, with centrist parties falling somewhere in between, adopting a more ambiguous position. Institutional factors (the existence of institutional spaces for GLTs in leftist parties) and progressive attitudes of individual party members are key in explaining leftist support. This position, however, is neither completely stable nor unanimously accepted within the left. Religion (the historical presence of the Catholic left in these circles) and discriminatory attitudes help explain such limitations to the support from the left. Moreover, religion, electoral incentives, and, to a lesser extent, progressive attitudes also help qualify the general opposition to GLT rights found among right-wing parties.
Following a discussion of the emergence of the GLT movement and the reality of discrimination faced by sexual minorities in Brazil, I will explore the general pattern of the relationship between the GLT movement and political parties by looking at the activity of federal deputies in the Chamber of Deputies and state deputies in Rio de Janeiro. The next section will discuss in greater detail the complex relationship between GLT activists and the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party, PT), exploring both the sources and limitations of the support for sexual minorities in the party. The following section will examine the main reasons for opposition to GLT rights in right-wing parties and highlight some opportunities for occupying political spaces within those parties. The final section will draw some theoretical conclusions and consider these findings in relation to other strategies available to the GLT movement and lessons learned from other groups about the relationship between social movements and political parties.
The Emergence of the GLT Movement and the Violence Against Sexual Minorities
The gay and lesbian movement was born during the period of political liberalization in the late 1970s at a time when a number of other social movements, such as the Afro-Brazilian and feminist movements, were becoming increasingly visible in the public sphere. As historian James Green points out (1994, 1999a), a number of factors contributed to the emergence of the movement, including (1) the social space won by homosexuals since the 1960s through the creation of gay networks and apolitical "homophile" groups similar to those found in North America (D'Emilio 1983); (2) the diffusion of ideas from the international gay liberation movement, especially through the travels of future gay and lesbian leaders to North America and Europe; (3) the development of a Brazilian critique of machismo and homophobia, aided by the rise of the feminist movement; and (4) the mobilizing effect and influence of the left and other social movements on some of the key gay and lesbian activists.
In 1979, the first gay and lesbian organization in the country, Grupo Somos (We Are) was created in Sao Paulo. (4) During the early years of the movement, lesbians also started organizing, though independently. Reacting to the sexism in the gay and lesbian movement and the heterosexism they encountered in the women's movement, groups such as the Grupo de Acao Lesbica-Feminista (Lesbian Feminist Action Group, GALF) were created. GALF also sought to create a space for lesbians in the feminist movement, often encountering significant resistance (Alvarez 1990). By the beginning of the 1980s, approximately 20 gay and lesbian groups had formed throughout the country, but by 1984, only 7 still existed (Grupo Gay da Bahia 1993). The weakness and small size of many groups, the growing economic crisis, and the …
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Publication information: Article title: Social Movements and Political Parties: Gays, Lesbians, and Travestis and the Struggle for Inclusion in Brazil. Contributors: Marsiaj, Juan P. - Author. Journal title: Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies. Volume: 31. Issue: 62 Publication date: July 2006. Page number: 167+. © Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 2008. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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