A Brazilian court has issued a strong rebuke of anti-LGBTQ+ president Jair Bolsonaro, ruling that the government has no authority to seize the funding of nearly 100 film projects to prevent a small handful of LGBTQ-related films from being made.
The conflict began in August, after Bolsonaro reportedly criticized four films with queer themes. Within days, citizenship minister Osmar Terra ordered ANCINE, the country’s film agency, from providing around $17 million in grants that had been granted to 80 different projects, a move that was seen as a scorched-earth method to prevent the four queer films from being made.
But now a judge has ruled that the order amounted to unlawful censorship.
“Freedom of expression, equality and non-discrimination deserve the protection of the Judiciary power,” wrote judge Laura Carvalho, as Reuters was the first to report.
Terra also planned to overhaul a committee overseeing ANCINE to further withhold funding from LGBTQ+ related projects, but the court ruled the committee didn’t have the authority to reallocate funds.
Bolsonaro defended the move as a way to “preserve Christian values.”
“As there was no legal way to prevent only the four projects from being excluded from the contest in its final phase, the ‘solution’ found was to sacrifice the entire process,” prosecutors argued. They also sought to have Terra fined and barred from public office for eight years due to misconduct.
This may not be the end of the ordeal yet, however. The government can still appeal the decision.
Five LGBTQ+ groups have sued the president in a separate case over the funding dispute. Their lawyer, Paulo Iotti, called the crackdown “a smokescreen to polarize society” and a distraction from ongoing scandals involving money laundering.
Queer creators are facing increased censorship under Bolsonaro, who has proudly declared his opposition to LGBTQ+ people and his desire to eliminate signs of their existence. Earlier this year, Brazil’s largest book festival banned an Avengers comic with a same-sex kiss. The country’s high court eventually ruled that banning books based on sexual orientation was illegal.
“This type of state intervention into culture has been normalised, which is very worrying,” Renan Quinalha, a law professor at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, told Reuters.
Beyond censoring creative works, Bolsonaro has also ordered the human rights ministry to stop addressing LGBTQ+ issues and said that school textbooks would need to delete references to homosexuality, feminism, or violence against women.
The country has wtinessed a cultural lurch toward homophobia over the last few years. In 2017, an anti-LGBTQ+ group called the Free Brazil Movement forced an art exhibit called Queermuseu to shut down. When the exhibit moved to Rio, Bolsonaro — who was a congressman at the time — said its organizers “should be shot.”
Brazil also has one of the highest rates of hate crimes of any nation in the world. Over 300 hundred LGBTQ+ people were murdered in Brazil last year, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia.