SAO PAULO – A minor character in Brazil's election faced a firestorm of criticism from activists on Monday after saying during a presidential debate that the country needs to stand up against gay people who should receive psychological help far away from the general population.
The comments by presidential candidate Levy Fidelix, who has the support of less than 1 percent of potential voters, drew no reaction from the leading candidates during the nationally televised debate late Sunday. But online and on social media tens of thousands of people denounced Fidelix as homophobic and hateful.
"It was so absurd and so grotesque. He is a parasite on Brazilian politics," said Beto de Jesus, secretary of Latin America and the Caribbean for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
Gay rights activists urged people to file complaints against Fidelix and asked that TV stations remove him from the final presidential debate on Thursday.
Fidelix, a former journalist who founded the center-right Brazilian Labor Renewal Party, gets equal airtime in presidential debates as President Dilma Rousseff, her main opponent Marina Silva and four other presidential hopefuls.
During the debate, candidate Luciana Genro asked Fidelix why some politicians refused to accept same-sex couples as families.
He responded with a vulgar statement about gay sex not leading to reproduction. "Those people who have those problems should receive psychological help. And very far away from us, because here it is not acceptable."
He also said it was "ugly" seeing gay couples walk by on Sao Paulo's main avenue.
Some members of the audience laughed at the remarks, but social media exploded with comments accusing him of homophobia.
Congressman Jean Wyllys, known for defending rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said on Monday that he is seeking legal advice to see whether the candidate can be sued for incitement to violence against gays.
Wyllys called Fidelix's comments during the debate hate speech. It was "motivated by a nauseating mix of stupidity, homophobia and vulgar demagoguery," he wrote on his Facebook page.
On Twitter and Facebook, people said "Levy, you are disgusting," and tens of thousands were furious at his comments. Many said it was a perfect reason to approve a law that would punish discrimination against the LGBT.
"More than ever, we need to criminalize homophobia. The hate speech should be silenced," wrote candidate Genro on her Twitter account.
Advocates have been calling for a law that would ban discrimination against the LGBT community, saying it would reduce violence against its members.
Silva has already faced complaints by gay rights activists. In August, she retracted proposals to change the constitution to allow gay marriage and to support a law that would criminalize sex-based discrimination.
A day after launching her government plan in which the proposals were revealed, Silva said there was a mistake in the publication process and clarified that she believed the same-sex unions allowed in Brazil already ensure all rights to same-sex couples.