RIO DE JANEIRO – Miguel Doldan couldn’t get the thought out of his head: People wanted him dead. The passersby on the streets, the riders on the bus – they looked friendly, but many of them, he often reminded himself, had voted for President Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing politician who said he’d rather have a dead son than a gay one.
Brazil was no longer the country he thought it was. And Doldan – a trans man increasingly aware that he was only 5 feet 4 inches tall and 121 pounds – needed to learn how to fight.
He found what he was looking for down a darkened street in central Rio, where the only light one recent evening came from an open-air gym. There was a group of a dozen or so people – gay or transgender all – who were training to meet the violence they increasingly fear they’re likely to face in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.
In a country with one of the world’s highest rates of violence against gay and transgender people, where social media is deluged with homophobic rants, some LGBT people no longer trust the state to protect them – and are now taking personal defense into their own hands. Martial arts classes for LGBT peopleare being taught in some of the country’s biggest cities – in Rio, Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre. Some in the community say they’ve considered arming themselves.
“The country has changed,” saidDoldan, 28. “Before, there was a sense that there were institutions that could help you. Judges, police, justice officials – you could rely on them. But now people feel comfortable saying things they wouldn’t have before and more comfortable doing things they used to not.”
A chasm has opened in Brazil between how gays are treated on paper and how some are treated in reality.
Its Supreme Court just criminalized homophobia. Television shows now regularly feature gay and transgender themes. A federal university…