Brazil: No heaven for LGBT People
Brazil has one of the highest LGBT reported mortality rates in the globe and its general violence doesn’t explain everything.
By Henrique Mota (PUC-Rio)
Brazil is often portrayed in national and international media as one of the worst counties in the World for LGBT persons. Based on a national report from Brazil LGBT activist group “Grupo Gay Bahia”, news outlets across the globe, using only absolute numbers from Brazil, tend to claim that Brazil is one of the deadliest countries in the globe (New Yortk Times, 2016;The Guardian, 2018), while some websites goes as far as saying that Brazil kills even more than countries where LGBTs may face the death penalty for their sexual orientation (e.g, Mamba Online, 2018). While absolutely striking, this claim has not been yet sustained by data. For this reason, I decided to take a closer look on this issue. Moreover, I also tried to question often-used arguments that Brazil is one of the places with higher LGBT mortality because it is a a violent and poor country, with relatively low level of education attainment.
On this empirical research, I use a cross-section dataset of 70 countries with information on reported number of murder of trans and a cross-section dataset of 22 countries based on a report for the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). I find that Brazil is indeed one the leading countries when it comes to reported murders of Trans and other LGBT groups; this is both true in relative and absolute terms, although underreporting in Asia and Africa may be biasing world rankings. Nonetheless, Brazil seems to be an outlier even when compared with countries with similar criminality, income and educational levels. Since the data is very fragile, mainly based on reported murders (which means that we do not have an exhaustive sample of murders) and since this data is highly sensitive to the level of LGBT activism on each country, this findings are obviously not definitive. This empirical research is much more an invitation for future empirical work and, more importantly, for improvement across the globe of initiatives registering LGBGT deaths.
One quite shocking aspect of LGBT mortality is the strong lack of official statistics of reported crimes and of bigger efforts from international NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, to register and analyze these crimes. For this reason, this empirical research was largely based on two reports, which gather information from nationally settled NGOs on each country and media outlets. First, the Transgender Europe “Trans Murder Monitoring”, which I will call TGEU-TMM. Second, I use the IACHR “Violence Against LGBTI Persons: A Registry Documenting Acts of Violence Between January 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014”, which I will call IACHR-Report. The latter also register violence against LGBT individuals, but for the purpose of this article, I restrict my analysis for murders, which are less subject to underreporting.
Nonetheless, differential reporting is still a cause of concern, especially on the first dataset; continents like Asia and Africa, as well as parts of Oceania, where homophobia is strong, LGBT activism is repressed and political liberties are weak, underreporting can be much higher than Europa and the Americas. Therefore, the force of LGBT movements in a country and the level of civil liberties may certainly be a key driving force on reported murders. For this reason, and since the main interest is to analyze Brazil’s performance in light of comparable countries, I restrict my main analysis, based on Trans Mortality, removing Africa, Asia and Oceania (except Australia). Moreover, I offer an Online Appendix using only Latin America data; results are very similar when it comes to Brazil’s relative position. The use of IACHR-Report dataset is largely supplementary; I remove significant outliers such as Guyana and Honduras as well as Canada and Argentina. For national statistics on Population, Intentional Homicides per 100.000 people and GDP PPP, I use World Bank Open Data and, for statistics on average years of schooling, I use Lee and Lee (2016) estimates extracted from Our World website.
Part I: Rankings — Brazil Performs Poorly
In absolute numbers, Brazil is the world leader on both datasets, with an average of 115 killings of Trans people from 2011 to 2015 and 243 LGBT homicides in 2013. Nonetheless, higher absolute number may be driven solely by differences in population size and not mortality patterns. For this reason, this section focus mainly on relative analysis, on which Brazil is still a leading country. For this part of the analysis, no country has been removed from either samples.
As seen in Column 1, Latin America is the global leader in Trans mortality when it comes to reported murders. This may be taken in a conservative analysis. As noticed by Transgender Europe (2012), Central and South America are marked by stronger LGBT activism and better coverage from Media Outlets than continents like Asia, Africa and parts of Oceania. Nonetheless, Brazil occupies the 4th place of this ranking. When I remove from the sample the 75% smaller countries when it comes to population (Column 2), Brazil leads the TGEU-TMM ranking, but underreporting in Asia and Africa cannot be forgotten. China, India, Russia, Pakistan and Thailand are highly populated countries with great marginalization of LGBT communities and relatively low civil liberties for LGBT movements. Nonetheless, Brazil performs poorly in comparison with countries in West Europe and North America; for example, its Trans Murder Rate is ten times higher than mortality in the United States. Mexico is also a country with high Trans Murder Rate, 6 times higher than the US.
Results from the IACHR (Column 3) reinforces the evidence that Brazil is a leading country when it comes to LGBT mortality, even in Latin America. Small countries in Central America, such as Guyana and Honduras, performs even worse than Brazil and their situation remains largely ignored by media outlets and international organizations. Other small countries from Latin America such as Jamaica, El Salvador, Colombia and Uruguay are also nations with troublesome statistics. There is no data, however, to sustain that Brazil or any of these South or Central American countries are worse than African and Middle East countries when it comes to relative mortality.
Part II: Are violence, income and education the key drivers of high LGBT mortality in Brazil?
Often cited arguments of Brazilian high levels of LGBT murder mortality usually try to link this phenomenon with the general situation of widespread violence and low educational and income levels. While those factors may be key drivers of criminality in general, violence directed to homosexuals, bisexuals and Trans people might not be fully explained by these factors. Indeed, prejudice and marginalization may also play its part. Nonetheless, if these often-cited arguments were true, we should expect that Brazil should show similar levels of LGBT murder rate to comparable countries, when it comes to general homicide rates, income level and educational attainment.
On Charts 1 to 6. I use TGEU-TMM dataset and plot the Average Transgender Murder Rate (1 per 1 million people) against the Intentional Homicide Rate (1 per 100,000 people), Log GDP PPP in 2016 and the Mean Years of Schooling for Population with more than 15 years old in 2010. I restrict this analysis for countries that are more likely to have similar levels of LGBT activism, and, hence, of underreporting of murders. For this reason, I remove data from Asia, Africa and Oceania (less Australia) due to significant repression of LGBT communities and low reporting on these countries. Since they are significant outliers, I also remove Honduras and Guyana from our analysis; their addition, however, do not change qualitatively my results.
On even-numbered Charts, I use “bubble Charts” because not only they are more aesthetically pleasing, but also because they give intuition on what would be the results if we weighted data with population size. Although I do not run any weighted regression, results would probably look quite similar and Brazil would still be an outlier. Brazil is the green dot (or bubble) in all Charts.
Charts 1 and 2: Average Trans Murder Rate (1 per 1 million) (2011–2015) x Intentional Homicides (1 per 100,000 people) (2011–2015)
Charts 3 and 4: Average Trans Murder Rate (1 per 1 million) (2011–2015) x Log GDP 2013 adjusted by PPP (Purchasing Power Parity)
Charts 5 and 6: Average Trans Murder Rate (1 per 1 million) (2011–2015) x Average Total Years of Schooling for 15–64 Population (2010)
As outlined on the Charts above, higher general homicide rates is indeed significantly correlated (R2 = 0.50) with higher Trans murder rates. Nonetheless, Brazil is significantly above that curve. That means that, even for countries with similar murder levels, Brazil kills relatively more transsexuals. Results are similar for income and education; higher levels of income and schooling are somewhat correlated with lower transsexual murder rates, but Brazil remains an outlier for countries with similar income levels and education levels.
I do not show here, but in my Online Apendix, I show results restricting analysis only for Latin America (South and Central America), considered by the Transgender Europe (2012) as one of the continents with higher levels of trans visibility on news criminal reporting, as well as one of the regions with higher LGBT movement activity. Results are quite similar, Brazil is still a big outlier; the correlation between general violence, as well as education, and violence against Trans, however, is much less stronger and there is almost no correlation between income and violence against LGBT.
This empirical research now follows to supplementary data from the IACHR report, with data from the Western Hemisphere. As previously mentioned, I remove outliers such as Canada and Argentina, with very low LGBT mortality, as well as Guyana and Honduras, with very high LGBT mortality. 
Chart 7: LGBT Murder Rate (1 per 1 million) (2013) x Intentional Homicides (1 per 100,000 people) (2013)
Chart 8: LGBT Murder Rate (1 per 1 million) (2013) x Log GDP 2013 adjusted by PPP (Purchasing Power Parity)
Charts 9: LGBT Murder Rate (1 per 1 million) (2013) x Average Total Years of Schooling for 15–64 Population (2010)
On Charts 7 to 9, results using LGBT deaths are quite similar to findings from the TGEU-TMM dataset, and they follow closely the results of the Appendix. LGBT murder rates remains correlated with higher intentional mortality; although this relation is weaker. In the Western Hemisphere, however, educational attainment and income does not seem to be good predictor of higher LGBT mortality. Nonetheless, Brazil remains being a significant outlier, now with Jamaica and El Salvador.
Brazil is no heaven for LGBT persons. This empirical research shows that Brazil is a country with high LGBT and Trans Murder Rates, being one of the leaders in absolute and relative in world rankings. Results for rankings may be biased, however, since continents like Africa, Asia and parts of Oceania may face significant problems of underreporting. For this reason, comparison is made between Brazil and countries with similar violence, income and educational patterns. Brazil is an outlier even if we control for these factors; i.e, Brazil kills more LGBT people when compared with countries that have similar levels of intentional homicide rate, income levels and schooling. From an empirical perspective, further investigation could be made when it comes to analyze the whole panel data to track possible predictors of LGBT mortality; this empirical activity would require controls for different levels of activism. Data is still a serious problem, especially due to high underreporting, and higher efforts from NGO and governments are needed to address this matter.
- Transgender Europe (2012). Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide: A Comparative Review of the Human-rights Situation of Gender-variant/Trans People.
- Lee, J.W.; Lee, H. (2016). Human capital in the long run. Journal of Development Economics, Volume 122, Pages 147–169. Available in: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387816300396)
- Jacobs, A. (2016) New York Times — Brazil is confronting an epidemic of anti-gay violence. Available in: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/06/world/americas/brazil-anti-gay-violence.html.
- Cowie, S. (2018) The Guardian — Violent deaths of LGBT people in Brazil hit all-time high. Available in: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/22/brazil-lgbt-violence-deaths-all-time-high-new-research
- Mamba Online (2018) Brazil has world’s highest LGBT murder rate, with 100s killed in 2017. Available in: http://www.mambaonline.com/2018/01/24/worlds-highest-lgbt-murder-rate-100s-killed-brazil/
Moreover, Transgender Europe Data can be often confusing; non-available data may be registered as 0. I don’t show this results here, but considering all 0s as non-available won’t change significantly our analysis on any matter.
 Those are correlations and in no way I am trying to claim a causal relationship on any of these variables.
 Great outliers when it comes to schooling like Nicaragua and Guatemala are removed from this analysis.
 For this part, countries who fail to report any occurrence are considered countries with non-available data.