Brazil may have its first out gay presidential candidate, Gov. Eduardo Leite, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be standing up for LGBTQ rights any time soon.
Currently the governor of Rio Grande Sol in the southern part of Brazil, Leite famously came out as gay in July in a TV interview as he was readying his run for the presidency.
“I’m gay — and I’m a governor who is gay rather than a gay governor,” Leite shared with viewers. “Just as Obama in the United States wasn’t a Black president, but a president who was Black. And I’m proud of this.”
The 36-year-old said he feels he has nothing to hide and wished that sexual orientation was a “non-issue” in Brazil.
But if LGBTQ Brazilians thought they might have a leader who would take up the banner of LGBTQ rights, they may be disappointed.
In a recent interview with the Buenos Aires Times, Leite parsed his position saying “the correct direction for the country is toward respect, tolerance, and the quest for equality,” but also made it clear he won’t be marching in a Pride parade any time soon.
“It’s not a cause I lay down for,” he told BA Times. “Not every woman is a feminist activist, not every black person is a racial activist, and not every gay person needs to be an activist.”
Some political experts in Brazil aren’t surprised by the tenor of that messaging as Leite as admitted publicly he supported and voted for the country’s current president, the virulently anti-LGBTQ Jair Bolsonaro.
“I’m one of those people who voted for Bolsonaro without being in agreement with the barbarities that he says,” Leite says before adding that he now regrets his vote because he’d hoped that “the government would be different.”
Even so, LGBTQ advocacy groups in Brazil say that Leite has their support in the wake of his coming out as gay.
Toni Reis, director-president of the National Alliance of LGBTI+, called Leite’s coming out “a courageous gesture, no doubt.” She added, “Independent of ideological questions and all the attacks that he will suffer, we’re in the trenches to defend him.”
According to experienced political observers, Leite has a chance of winning the presidential race. A recent poll showed 76% of voters don’t believe a candidate’s sexuality would “interfere” with their vote.
And, Bolsonaro has seen his approval ratings drop precipitously amid his woeful handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
As more than half a million Brazilians died from the virus, Bolsonaro touted hydroxychloroquine and waved off offers of vaccine from other countries. And then a congressional investigation appeared to show signs of a kickback scheme in the purchase of shots.
Leite could be the change Brazil is looking for.
“Leite is a very plausible name, and one of the most viable names for a ‘third way,’” says Deysi Cioccari, political science professor at Catholic University of São Paulo. “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.”
But don’t look for him to pose with a rainbow flag in the near future.