When you think of mainstream television programs like Ellen, this web Glee, and Modern Family, you can see the power of the the media to change American societal attitudes towards LGBT individuals.
To learn about queer life in Brazil, we met with media guru Andre Fischer. Supergay Andre is director of Mix Brazil, the largest LGBT media group in Latin America. Originating as a queer film festival, Mix Brazil has grown into a popular web portal and publishing company of two gay magazines, Junior and H Magazine. In addition, Mix Brazil has a weekly LGBT television and radio show.
Having started out as a DJ, Andre knows how to liven up a crowd and often hosts Mix Brazil shows. In his free time, Andre has written five books, including a Portuguese version of Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man and How the World Became Gay. We caught up with this busy Supergay when he flew into Rio de Janeiro from San Paulo for the weekend to relax.
Out & Around: How did you start Mix Brazil?
Andre: I had a Brazilian friend directing the New York LGBT Mix Film Festival in the early ’90s. He asked me to do some research on Brazilian gay short films for the festival. I found out that there were no gay film shorts from Brazil, so I worked with some friends to make some. That’s how we started a Mix Brazil Festival.
I was 20-something. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I was traveling a lot to the States and I wanted to live in this kind of free society in my own country. I started this work for selfish reasons because I wanted to live in a place where I could be gay. But now it’s sort of become my mission.
Out & Around: What are you most proud of at Mix Brazil?
Andre: One of the biggest contributions Mix Brazil did for Brazilian society was to create a word that would encompass gay people and their supporters. We started using “GLS” for “Gays, Lésbicas e Simpatizantes” [Gays, Lesbians, and Sympathizers].
With the term “GLS”, people could feel comfortable and part of the community without necessarily being gay. This expression spread throughout the whole country within 6 months. This changed how Brazilians understood and related to gays. It’s so widely known now that in newspapers the acronym is not even spelled out anymore.
Out & Around: How are gays portrayed in mainstream media?
Andre: Things have changed, but not enough. Every soap opera now has at least one gay character, and they are often in couples. But there is no kissing still. We’re there and visible, but portrayed as politically correct and boring.
Out & Around: Tell us about your books.
Andre: My book Dicas de Sexo para Mulheres por Un Homen Gay, [Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man] became quite popular here in Brazil. It turned into a TV show that was a lot of fun to host.
My latest book Como o Mundo Virou Gay? [How the World Became Gay] is based on my ten years as a weekly columnist on gay life in Brazil’s largest newspaper. I’m now writing a fiction book based on a true story about a gay man who lives in London to follows his dream to be a porn star.
Out & Around: What is gay life like in Brazil?
Andre: It’s still a very violent country towards gay and lesbians. In small towns, you often see homosexuals becoming transvestites because it is the only way they can be accepted. It is often easier to be seen as a woman than a gay man. These small towns are the types of places where you read about homophobic murders taking place.
But we do have gay bubbles in Rio and San Paolo. The bubbles are expanding and are looking like other parts of the ‘developed world’. The big difference I’ve seen is the increase in LGBT visibility in the past couple of years.
Out & Around: What are the current challenges?
Andre: The big issue now is basic rights. We have a pro-gay Justice, but a very conservative Congress. Some liberal judges have made progressive laws because of their education, but these laws are not coming from a people’s movement. We are not yet going to the streets for our rights. We have the largest Pride parades in the world, but they are huge carnavals. They are not a political movement.
At this point in Brazil we have a very strong evangelical christian community. Sometimes it seems their whole agenda is fighting against gay rights. Here in Rio, the previous governor fought to provide public assistance for people who wanted to enter into programs to ‘cure’ their homosexuality. Thankfully, our new governor in Rio has a different attitude and now has a campaign to fight homophobia.