When your country is beset by political crisis, economic recession, skyrocketing crime and the highest rate of anti-LGBTI violence in the world what is the concerned mother of a teenaged lesbian to do?
For Maria Claudia Cabral, the answer is simple - take a leading role in organizing other mothers across Brazil to respond with a campaign of love and support for their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children.
The organization she helps lead, Mães pela Igualdade (Mothers Movement for Equality), began as a publicity campaign initiated by All Out in 2011. At that time mothers from across Brazil gathered in Rio de Janeiro to share their stories of challenge and acceptance for their LGBTI children. A poster campaign that emerged from the event helped raise awareness of ways parents could be more supportive of their children at home and across society. At the conclusion of the campaign there was a desire stay engaged.
After the mothers returned home they kept in touch to build a network of Mães pela Igualdade chapters across the country.
Maria is trained as a lawyer and family constellations therapist. This combination of skills, and her job working in the federal government, put her in the perfect position to build supportive family structures and demand accountability for the legal rights of LGBTI Brazilians.
On the family level “It is important to show how families and parents affect their LGBTI children. A lot of mothers and fathers have mixed feeling about LGBTI children. They feel afraid or guilty or angry or ashamed. They react in these ways because they lack information about the social support their children need and deserve,” says Maria.
At the policy level Mães pela Igualdade use their respected position as parents to reach out to politicians opposed to LGBTI rights. “We believe at this time that we as mothers and fathers it's easier to talk to conservatives. We are strategically placed to engage in the fight. Conservatives hear our voices because we hold respectable places in society. We use the argument 'I am a mother so you should respect me and my LGBTI child,’” Maria explains.
Few countries in the world currently face political challenges as extreme as in Brazil. The elected President Dilma Rousseff has been temporarily removed from office awaiting an impeachment trial in September. Virulent anti-LGBTI politicians have been elected to positions across the country. A thriving network of evangelical churches, many with their own radio or television stations, have turned a seemingly tolerant society into a cauldron of mistrust and violence against women, racial minorities and the LGBTI community.
And, in many instances, intolerant preachers use their congregations as voting blocks to enter politics.
In 2015 a small number of conservative and evangelical members of Congress were able to stop progress on a law that would have established homophobia as a basis for hate crime prosecutions. According to current estimates there is one homophobic murder in Brazil every 28 hours.
As the world looks to Rio and the 2016 Olympics Maria is concerned that the world will not see the truth of Brazil today. “During the Olympics LGBTI people will be safer because the police and army are in the streets. But, it will go back to the growing wave of hate afterwards.”
Mães pela Igualdade will begin a new phase in its work in Rio just after the Olympics end. Mothers and fathers will gather for group therapy sessions to better understand their children and their own feelings. Maria hopes to hold these sessions weekly and build a tight web of mutual support. “At this political moment in Brazil, these small steps are more important than screaming at Congress!”
The impact of Maria’s efforts over the past five years are seen in her own family. Her daughter, Isabella, is now a lesbian-feminist activist at university in Minas Gerais. “I raised my children to think critically and I’m very proud of Isabella’s demanding respect for all women, sexual orientations and gender identities.”