Gay Bolsonaro Challenger Not an LGTBQ+ 'Activist,' but Equality Groups Support Him Anyway

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday September 7, 2021

Brazil's vocally anti-LGBTQ+ president, Jair Bolsonaro, has a serious challenger for next year's general elections in Eduardo Leite, a former supporter who has since come out as gay — but who says he's no LGBTQ+ "activist."

Despite coming out of the closet, however, and even though he says that "the correct direction for the country is toward respect, tolerance, and the quest for equality," Leite has declared that LGBTQ+ equality is "not a cause I lay down for," saying that "not every gay person needs to be an activist," Bloomberg reported.

Even so, the head of the National Alliance of LGBTI+, Toni Reis, told Bloomberg that the country's sexual minorities are all in for the 36-year-old candidate: "Independent of ideological questions and all the attacks that he will suffer, we're in the trenches to defend him," Reis said.

Leite came out during Pride Week in July, saying in a televised interview, "I'm gay — and I'm a governor who is gay rather than a gay governor," UK newspaper The Guardian reported at the time. "And I'm proud of this," Leite went on to say.

Leite "rode President Jair Bolsonaro's right-wing wave into office in 2018, winning over financial markets with a program of fiscal austerity and privatizations in his southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which shares borders with Argentina and Uruguay," Bloomberg recalled.

Leite acknowledges that he "voted for Bolsonaro without being in agreement with the barbarities that he says" because, he maintains, he expected better governance.

He's positioning himself as an appealing alternative to both Bolsonaro — whose homophobic rhetoric Leite decries — and leftist challenger (and previous Brazilian president) Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"In the election next year, we've got to create a path that is free from the Lula-Bolsonaro dispute," Leite told the press.

"The prospect of dramatic change in Brazil in 2022 is great," Bloomberg noted; "Bolsonaro's popularity has never been lower, and Lula is steadily edging up in the polls. But 42% of voters say they haven't yet made up their minds."

Leite does not have the kind of national name recognition of either of the two better-known rivals, but, said Catholic University of Sao Paolo professor of political science Deysi Cioccari, "He is elegant in his political answers, he is thoughtful and calm, and this is in a certain way what Brazil needs to see itself as having some kind of normality."

Moreover, "Investors currently seem to like Leite," Bloomberg reported, noting his support as "the person most likely to beat Bolsonaro and Lula by 45% of respondents in an August XP Investments survey of 75 financial market investors."

Though Leite referenced a recent poll showing that more than three-quarters of Brazilians don't care about the sexual orientation of their next president, Bloomberg noted that he "is likely to lose [the] votes" of Evangelicals, who helped sweep Bolsonaro to the country's highest office and whose ranks have been growing.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.