“I Became Scared, This Was Their Goal”: Efforts to Ban Gender and Sexuality Education in Brazil

May 12, 2022
  • Description

Since around 2014, lawmakers at the federal, state, and municipal levels in Brazil have introduced over 200 legislative proposals to ban "indoctrination" or "gender ideology" in Brazilian schools. These proposals, which target gender and sexuality education, have been the subject of intense political and social debate in Brazilian society, with some bills ultimately passing, many still pending, and others withdrawn.

This report is based on a review by Human Rights Watch of 217 of these bills and laws, and on 56 interviews with teachers and education experts, including representatives of state departments of education, unions, and civil society organizations.

The report focuses on legislative and political attempts to suppress holistic and comprehensive approaches to education on gender and sexuality in primary and secondary public schools in Brazil. It contextualizes such attacks within the framework of the right to education, to information, and to health, as well as the related right to access comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), which they contravene.

While Brazilian law and policy, both at the federal and state levels, require CSE instruction, most of the efforts by lawmakers and conservative groups described in this report aim to specifically ban the key concepts of "gender" and "sexual orientation" in all areas of school, including as they relate to the rights of girls, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. 

The report illustrates a campaign—at times coordinated, at times diffuse—to discredit and ban gender and sexuality education, bolstered by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, which has fully embraced the alleged justification for these bills, amplifying it for political effect, including during his 2018 presidential campaign.

Interviews with 32 teachers from 8 states in Brazil revealed hesitancy or fear among some teachers when it comes to addressing gender and sexuality in the classroom due to legislative and political efforts to discredit such material, and at times harassment by elected officials and community members.