Fourth Annual Black July: Favelas Fight Racism, Part 1—LGBTphobia and Favela Resistance

Clique aqui para Português

This is the first of two articles on Black July, now in its fourth annual iteration. Both articles focus on the three roundtable discussions that took place on July 25, day two of the three-day event. According to Black July organizers, the annual event is “an international collaboration in the fight against racism, militarization, and apartheid, undertaken by the mothers and family members of victims of State violence and various groups that make up the movement of favelas in Rio de Janeiro.” Read part 2 here.

The Fourth Edition

For its fourth edition, this year’s Black July took place on July 24, 25, and 26, and stayed close to the annual event’s original purpose: combating racism, apartheid, and—according to organizers—contributing to the “internationalization of the fight, to tell and decry our pain, and to gather our strength against those that oppress and kill us.”

On July 24, a debate on “Environmental Racism’s Intersection with Violence” took place in the Terreiro Ilê Omolu Oxum, a religious and cultural space of Afro-Brazilian resistance in São João de Meriti, located in Greater Rio de Janeiro’s Baixada Fluminense region.

The afternoon of the 25th saw attendees move to the Maré Museum, in the Maré favelas of the city’s North Zone, for three roundtable discussions—the subject of this two-part series. That evening featured a performance by the Encruzilhada Feminina, as well as the Slam Manguinhos poetry battle, which took place at the Manguinhos train station in front of Brazil’s national health institute, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz).

On July 26, organizers pitched a “Tent of Resistance” in the center of Largo da Carioca, a central square in Rio de Janeiro’s downtown, distributing clothing, toys, and books. Organizers also used the setting as a stage for the weekend’s final activity, the “Popular Jury: Latin American States on Trial,” featuring two panels with activists from Mexico, Venezuela, from the Mapuche people (Chile), mothers and family members of the victims of State violence, and Rio favela residents. Watch the full video here:

This year, in addition to the event’s official programming, organizers held independent, self-run workshops throughout the city, including the “Our History Our Voice Festival,” in the Baixada city of Belford Roxo on July 27, and the debate “Religious Racism and the Impact of Militarization on the Lives of the Black and Peripheral Population,” at the Afro-Brazilian religious site Terreiro Ologunede-Ilê Àse Alade Ode Lomi, in Nova Iguaçu, also in the Baixada, as part of Black July’s closing ceremony.

The Essence of Black July

For Gizele Martins, journalist, resident of Maré, and one of the event’s organizers, Black July’s central goal is to “discuss militarization, racism, and apartheid at the international level, bringing people from other countries that live and experience this theme, both as [a tool for] training and [as a platform for] denunciation.” Martins says that “it is a way for us to meet with other countries, with other mothers and family members to discuss these topics. It is a way of gathering strength and recognizing these themes beyond what we know in Rio.”

On July 25, RioOnWatch attended the Maré Museum roundtables to hear activists—many of them from the favelas—that organized, based on their life experiences, in an effort to fill the gap left by the absence of effective and efficient public policies for a large portion of the population. At the event, it became clear that being an activist from one of these peripheral spaces gave an element of affection to the struggle. Rather than the battle belonging to the “other,” it is “ours,” as event participants repeated many times throughout the day. Speaking of one’s own space and people that are “one’s own” carries an important value with it. This approximation of such unique yet universal experiences gave the event a welcoming air—even in its purpose of combating the ever closing-in racist structures that deprive these populations of their rights, be it the right to security, housing, education, or others.

The Space

The second day of activities of the fourth annual Black July event took place at a museum inside the favelas of Maré. The Maré Museum tells the story of its people and their strategies for re-existing within a society that validates the exclusionary practices of the State. The museum stands in dialogue with Black July in its expression of art in resistance to the practices of exclusion and negligence on behalf of the State. In addition to the museum’s permanent exhibition, before the event’s roundtables began, it was possible to reflect on the themes addressed through the histories presented in photographs and excerpts from speeches of various favela activists, in the museum’s external area.

Speaking of Art…

Lucas Francisco, resident of Maré and longtime fan of the museum, also a dance student at Rio’s Federal University (UFRJ), began the debates on the 25th with a hard-hitting presentation. Mixing dance with activism in an impactful way, Francisco’s performance addressed LGBTphobia and the social norms imposed on boys, mixing dance with a strong depiction of militarization and torture. Francisco’s performance left the crowd speechless before art’s ability to express pain in an intense and beautiful way.

Table 1: LGBTQ+ Militarization and Favela Resistance

In its debut at this year’s Black July, the LGBTQ+ roundtable contained a panel of experts that, based in their personal experiences, resolved to hold the State accountable, so that this population might finally see their rights fully guaranteed. Betto Duarti, a representative of the LGBTQ+ movement in Maré, and a resident of Maré’s Vila do João favela for more than 30 years, one of the figures responsible for the first LGBT parades in Maré, was one of the discussion’s participants. He relayed that as a representative of the LGBTQ+ movement in Maré, the fight for healthcare for these populations is one of the most important practices. Betto is often sought out when someone suffers from poor healthcare due to prejudice.

Also at the roundtable were Dayana Gusmão, born in Maré and a member of the Lesbi Resistance of the Favelas collective, and Michele Seixas, member of the Brazilian Lesbian Articulation, and a resident of Complexo do Alemão. Lesbians, these intellectual women centered their discussions on the machismo violence that plagues the lesbian population and results in lesbicide.

One important point for the debate was the question of the LGBT prison population. According to Seixas, the data—so important in the construction of measures to improve the lives of all—are often neglected, making it difficult to map out the quantity of LGBTQs deprived of their freedom and what actions are being taken to reinsert them in society. For Seixas, this attitude plays a part in the politics of invisibility: “the absence of these data is something intentional, because the lack of data makes it impossible to build public policies and execute them… Within existing public policy [for the prison population] the element of invisibility is even greater with regard to black, lesbian women from the favelas.” In closing the roundtable, Seixas added: “necropolitics has worked well, and that’s nothing new… the killing of LGBT people has gained a certain banality, now that Brazil [leads in] the ranking for deaths of [this group].”

This is the first article in a two-part series on 2019 Black July. For part 2 click here.

Carla Souza is a teacher by training and loves her job as an early childhood education teacher. Raised in Rocinha, she understands her existence as a black woman and favela resident as a focus of struggle and resistance in the world.