Jean Wyllys during the 15th LGBT Conference in Brazil´s Congress on June 6, 2018.

© 2018 José Cruz/Agência Brasil

Brazil´s Congress has lost an important voice for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people at a time when it is most needed: Jean Wyllys, an openly gay member of Congress, has announced he will give up his seat over fears for his life.

“I want to take care of myself and remain alive,” said Wyllys, who said he will live abroad.

During two terms in office, Wyllys, born into a poor family in 1974, was an unwavering defender of human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That made him a favorite target of harassment and intimidation from religious zealots who see homosexuality as a sin.

He endured a deluge of false accusations on social media – which he kept refuting on his webpage – and has reported receiving multiple threats.

A turning point came in March 2018, when unknown assailants gunned down human rights activist and councilwoman Marielle Franco, a defender of the poor, Afro-Brazilians, and LGBT people in Rio de Janeiro, the state that Wyllys represented in Brasilia.

Wyllys says that Franco’s murder made him realize the seriousness of the threats against him. Wyllys had reported them to the Federal Police, but he complained that the investigation led nowhere. In November 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found his life was “at grave risk” and the state was not doing enough to protect him.

His passionate defense of LGBT rights led him to clash with congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who became president of Brazil in January. In a 2015 interview, Bolsonaro described Wyllys as “a gay activist with absurd projects that do not add anything to the defense of the family.”

Wyllys said that Bolsonaro´s electoral victory in itself did not make him leave, but rather the “scary increase” in violence against LGBT people that he feels it has brought in its wake. He cited the January 21 murder of a trans woman, whose killer ripped open her chest and placed there a religious image.

No politician, from the left or the right, should feel forced to abandon their seat in Congress because of threats to their life. Wyllys´s decision is understandable. But it´s a great loss for all Brazilians, who have the right to hear different opinions and to express them without fear of reprisals.