“We Demand Respect:” Valentina Sampaio on Protecting Brazil’s Trans Community

3 months ago 20
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Valentina Sampaio is on a mission. The Brazilian modeling star made history in 2017 when she became the first trans woman to appear on the cover of Vogue Paris, and has been a vocal advocate for the rights of trans people in Brazil ever since. Sampaio is an ambassador for today’s three-hour long Pride Live event, joining speakers Barack Obama, Donatella Versace, and Taylor Swift to honor the LGBTQ+ community and the 50th anniversary of the movement’s inception. For Sampaio, the opportunity to join GLAAD in the fight for equality aligned with her philosophy. “I try to lead by example, walk the talk, transmit love to the world, plant a little seed of understanding and acceptance in people's hearts, one person at a time,” she shared via email from Aquiraz. “I believe that better people build a better world for all of us, and I stand for any and everyone who, like me, suffers prejudice for not fitting into society’s standards.”

At present, trans rights in Brazil are almost non-existent. The nation’s idyllic landscape conceals an ugly legacy of violence against trans people: it is ranked the number one country for murders of trans people according to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project. “We have never had a respectful place in society,” says Sampaio. “Much like in the United States and across the globe, transgender people in Brazil are marginalized. We are seen as immoral and labeled as ‘something’ perverted, widely insulted, publicly beaten, and in some cases murdered.” The brutality has only increased since the conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro, came into office last year. The Supreme Court’s decision to make gender identity discrimination a criminal offense in 2019 was a sign of progress in Brazil, but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to changing societal attitudes across the board. “That was a great victory and a step in the right direction. However, laws need to be respected and enforced, and which is not necessarily the case in Brazil,” she explains. “Last year alone, we witnessed the brutal killing of 129 transgender people [in Brazil]. Our protection comes from God. Even with the new laws, people don’t widely respect and comply with them, and the authorities aren’t enforcing them either.”

Photo: Courtesy Valentina Sampaio (@valentts) 

The discrimination Brazil’s trans community faces daily, particularly when it comes to employment, is especially disconcerting. “It is rare to see a transgender person have a public-facing ‘official’ job,” explains Sampaio. “Outside of Brazil, I have had the chance to meet trans people working in a great variety of professions. Salespeople in fashion, cashiers in supermarkets, makeup artists, security, and many other careers. It brings me great happiness to arrive somewhere and feel represented.” Sadly, the level of success Sampaio has found abroad has yet to be replicated at home. “I am almost ashamed to say that I have been much more accepted outside of my own country,” she says, noting her in demand status in New York, where she is represented by talent agency, The Lions. “Much is said about us during Pride month by the media in Brazil, but they don’t let us speak for ourselves. They do not allow our voice to be directly heard on their platforms.”

To that end, Sampaio hopes to use her platform to amplify voices in her community beyond Pride month. “It is important to reaffirm our existence,” she says. “We have always existed and will continue to exist. Pride honors a pivotal event for our LGBTQA community, The Stonewall Riots, but it is important to honor the community all year round.” Through her work with GLAAD and local organizations she wants to affect systemic change. “The first step is judging less; the next is giving opportunities for employment and support,” she says. “We want respect, and the more people are involved, the stronger we will be; unity is strength.”

While there’s plenty of work that needs to happen in Brazil, discrimination is a global issue. “We’ve seen the violence towards the trans community recently in the United States through the Black Trans Lives Matter movement highlighting the recent brutal murders of Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and Tony McDade,” says Sampaio. “Black trans people are suffering immensely, as they are disproportionately targeted. This fight is not only within the LGBTQ community, it’s with everyone, and it’s important to advance the trans-rights movement. We’re holding firm and committed to doing everything we can, every day, to create space for a peaceful, dignified existence. We demand respect—the basic right to exist as we are.”

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