SAO PAULO – Brazil’s first openly gay congressman, Jean Wyllys, revealed in an interview published Thursday that he has resigned his seat and left the country in the face of death threats.
The lawmaker, who became famous as the winner of the Brazilian version of TV reality show “Big Brother,” told Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper that he began contemplating retirement from public life after the murder last March of another high-profile LGBT politician, Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco.
The Afro-Brazilian lesbian grew up in one of Rio’s toughest neighborhoods and was a vocal critic of killings by police and by para-police death squads known as militias.
“When they executed Marielle, I had an idea of the seriousness of the situation,” Wyllys said.
“On top of those death threats that come from groups of killers-for-hire linked to militias, there was another possibility: an attack carried out by fanatical people who believe the systematic defamation directed at me,” he said.
Wyllys, who won a third term last October, said the climate of growing hostility to LGBT people forced him to accept a police escort.
The 44-year-old leftist said that his decision to quit Congress and go into voluntary exile was not directly related to the election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, an outspoken homophobe.
“It was not his election in itself. It was the level of violence that rose after his election. To give you an idea, a few days ago, they ripped out the heart of a transvestite. That guy (the killer) put an image of a saint in the place of the heart,” Wyllys told Folha.
He said that his choice to flee abroad had been influenced by advice from Uruguayan former President Jose “Pepe” Mujica, a one-time leftist guerrilla who was jailed during his country’s 1973-1985 military regime.
“When he learned that I was being threatened with death, Pepe Mujica told me: ‘Boy, be careful. Martyrs are not heroes.’ And that’s it. I don’t want to sacrifice myself,” Wyllys said.
His fears grew after O Globo daily reported that the president’s son, lawmaker Flavio Bolsonaro, had employed family members of the militia leader linked to the assassination of Marielle Franco.
“It scares me to know that the son of a president hired for his staff the wife and mother of a hit man. The president who always defamed me, who always insulted me, who always used homophobia against me. That environment is not safe for me,” Wyllys said.
Declining to disclose his whereabouts, he said that he would return to Brazil when the time was right.
“Not necessarily to that space of parliamentary political representations, but for the defense of the cause. I will never stop doing that,” the now-former congressman said.