During his visit to the White House on Tuesday, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said in his remarks that the U.S. and Brazil stand side-by-side "in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our Creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes, and against fake news."
President Trump vigorously nodded along with the entire statement, as the video below shows. The statement, which has several concerning parts, has not gotten a lot of media attention, but it's worth focusing on what exactly Bolsonaro meant by "gender ideology."
Bolsonaro, who has been called the "Trump of the Tropics," said in 2013 that "Yes, I am homophobic — and very proud of it." He has also said that he would rather have his son die in an accident than be gay, and that parents should beat being gay out of their children. He has tried to wipe references to LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and violence against women from Brazilian textbooks. Meanwhile, Trump stood with him, proclaiming the two countries' "shared values" and exchanging soccer jerseys.
President Bolsonaro: "Brazil and the United States stand side-by-side in their efforts to ensure liberties in respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our creator, against the gender ideology, or the politically correct attitudes, and against fake news." pic.twitter.com/Vmk7AZoAWy— The Hill (@thehill) March 19, 2019
Trump recently announced a ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military, which a judge recently said can't take effect even as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the administration in January. His administration has also scaled back some workplace protections for LGBTQ+ people and argued that a federal anti-discrimination law would not protect LGBTQ+ employees.
The use of the term "gender ideology" is not accidental. The term was first adopted by the Vatican's Holy See and has since then been used around the world as a "catch-all phrase and short-hand for various anxieties about social change," according to Graeme Reid, the director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.
"Some have referred to the term as 'symbolic glue,' or an 'empty signifier,'" Reid writes. "It simultaneously means nothing and everything, but is consistently used to attack feminism, transgender equality, the existence of intersex bodies, the elimination of sex stereotyping, family law reform, same-sex marriage, access to abortion, contraception, and comprehensive sexuality education."
Humiliating and discrediting women is a big part of the anti-"gender ideology" movement, which has followed the spread of nationalism. "Donald Trump's ideological cousins around the world want to reverse the feminist gains of recent decades," Peter Beinart recently wrote in The Atlantic. Trump boasted that he can "grab 'em by the pussy" and his supporters chant "Lock her up" about Hillary Clinton (long after the election is over), while Bolsonaro told a Brazilian congresswoman in 2015, "I would not rape you, because you are not worthy of it." Crowds at Bolsonaro's rallies reportedly chanted that they would feed dog food to feminists, and, like Trump, Bolsonaro enjoys support from evangelicals who want to curtail abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.
Sanitized comments about "traditional family lifestyles," "gender ideology," and "politically correct attitudes" aren't just empty statements by politicians. They have the potential to do real harm to a population that is already vulnerable.
"LGBTQ youth are already at a higher risk for bullying, violence, and suicide," Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, told Refinery29. "The Trevor Project hears from LGBTQ youth in crisis every day who feel unsafe and alone, especially when people in positions of power erase or mock the identities and families of the LGBTQ community. Statements sending messages that being LGBTQ is inherently negative can encourage the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy, but now more than ever, world leaders need to share positive and affirming messages for LGBTQ young people to let them know they are loved, valued, and never alone."
We reached out to the White House and will update this story when we hear back.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project's TrevorLifeline 24/7/365 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is also available 24/7 via chat every day at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting 678-678.