RIO DE JANEIRO – The shooting of a gay youth by men in military uniforms after a mammoth gay pride parade is raising alarm about continuing homophobic violence in a city widely seen as a global oasis of tolerance.
Douglas Igor Marques Luiz told police he was hanging out with friends at the Arpoador, a rocky outcrop between Ipanema and Copacabana beaches Sunday when three men in military uniforms approached. The 19-year-old said they told everyone to leave, but held him back and started verbally abusing him. The aggression escalated, and eventually he was shot.
The shooting created particular attention because it came at a moment when Brazil's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual community was holding its biggest celebration in a city voted the "Sexiest Place on Earth" by the popular LGBT travel site TripOut Gay Travel in 2010.
LGBT tourists make up one quarter of its approximately 3 million international visitors every year, and Sunday's gay pride march drew nearly a million participants, organizers estimated.
Yet despite Rio's reputation as a gay-friendly and sexually uninhibited place where anything goes, there have been 600 complaints of anti-LGBT violence in the last year just in Rio state, according to the government-run program Rio Sem Homofobia, established in 2009 to help fight discrimination.
"We've gotten very far, but we need more political will to really improve conditions for the LGBT community in Brazil," said Julio Moreira, president of the advocacy organization Grupo Arco-Iris de Cidadania LGBT, which means Rainbow Group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Citizenship.
The organization has called a rally Sunday demanding a thorough investigation of the attack on Luiz, and calling for Brazil's Senate to pass a law banning discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation.
Decades of campaigns by pro-tolerance groups have prompted Brazil's state and national governments to increasingly battle culturally entrenched attitudes that feed the violence.
The federal government recently launched a program to fight homophobic discrimination and police in Rio de Janeiro became the first in the country to start recording cases of anti-gay violence or speech.
But attacks fueled by anti-gay sentiment continue to make headlines.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, five teenagers used homophomic slurs while assaulting four other young men in separate incidents early Sunday morning, police say.
Orlando Machado, the lawyer representing one of the arrested teenagers, said the alleged victims came onto his client and his friends, who didn't appreciate their attention and got into a fight.
Moreira, the LGBT activist group leader, complained that often "culprits are allowed to go free because they say the victim offended their honor ... The people who suffered the crimes go from being the victim to being the instigator of the crime. We need a better balance in Brazilian justice."
Luiz, meanwhile, has been released from the hospital, and is cooperating with the investigation.
A spokesman with the military command of the nearby historical Copacabana Fort released a statement saying that no guns were fired by troops Sunday and that there were no patrols in the area.
Investigators with the civil police summoned all military personnel who were on duty at the fort to be questioned Tuesday.