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Henrique Medeiros Pires. Photo: Mauro Vieira/Ministério da Cidadania.
Henrique Medeiros Pires. Photo: Mauro Vieira/Ministério da Cidadania.

Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Steps Down over Censorship of LGBTQ Programming

Henrique Medeiros Pires, Brazil’s special secretary of culture, tendered his resignation on Wednesday, August 21, in protest of the conservative government’s alleged censorship of LGBTQ television productions, Folha de S.Paulo reports. After he announced his decision to step down, Pires told Brazilian media outlets that he had been attempting to circumvent the government’s efforts to restrict artistic freedom for months. He also clarified that these efforts were not an attempt to go against any of his fellow officials, but were carried out to protect free speech. 

His departure was prompted by comments made by right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, who called for the suspension of a competition, run by the federal Audiovisual Sector Fund, that would have awarded between $95,000 and $195,000 to shows in recognition of their excellence in various categories. Bolsonaro publicly criticized several LGBTQ-themed TV shows that were finalists for the categories of gender and sexual diversity, including Afronte, Tranversais, Religare Queer, and Reverse Sex.

After Bolsonaro declared his opposition to the competition, Osmar Terra, the minister of citizenship, signed an ordinance that postponed the initiative for a period of 180 days. According to the Official Gazette (DOU), where the ordinance was first published, Terra cited the need to form a new management committee for the Audiovisual Sector Fund as the reason for the suspension.

“Today I had a long talk with minister Osmar Terra and saw that I was out of touch with him and president Bolsonaro,” Pires said. “I do not agree with this filter, which is actually censorship. Article 220 of the constitution guarantees freedom of expression.” In response to Bolsonaro’s comments, Pires reminded the leader that “the Federal Supreme Court itself says that homophobia is a crime comparable to racism.” He also said that the country should focus more on how to create jobs for the 13 million people unemployed in Brazil and less on whether men are kissing on television. 

Since the announcement, Terra has claimed that Pires did not quit. He said that Pires was asked to vacate his post on August 20 because “he was not carrying out the policies proposed by the portfolio.” Terra also said that Pires did not express any discontent with officials prior to resigning. Deputy secretary and secretary of development and culture incentive José Paulo Soares Martins will replace Pires.

The National Forum of Regional Secretaries and Cultural Leaders has also spoken out against the government’s attempt to target and silence programming that represents LGBTQ interests. An excerpt from a statement the group released regarding the alleged censorship states that the Brazilian constitution defends the “free expression of intellectual, artistic, scientific and communication activity, independent of censorship or license.”

A former journalist, Pires served as chief of staff for Terra when he was the minister of social development in 2016. Previously, Pires worked at the Institute of Human Sciences at the Federal University of Pelotas. When he became special secretary of culture, Pires said that he hoped to increase the public’s access to arts and culture, promote artists and creative initiatives in smaller municipalities, and introduce literary programs.