AIDS prevention in Dilma’s government and the censoring of the video campaign for 2012 Carnaval
Jorge Beloqui1 and Veriano Terto Jr2
This article aims to present and briefly analyze a series of events relating to censoring by the federal government itself of government campaigns for AIDS prevention, in particular the recent prevention campaign for the 2012 Carnival. Recent instances of censorship must be known and discussed by the public and must be confronted by all of those who fight for high quality sexual health and for the promotion and guarantee of sexual rights. Silence and omission in such cases may signify backward steps, not only in connection with HIV/AIDS but also with a whole series of advances and victories in the field of promotion and protection of sexual rights and in the secular nature of the Brazilian state.
a. Second round of presidential elections campaign in October, 2010
The three most voted candidates (Dilma Roussef, Marina da Silva and José Serra) are against egalitarian marriage, that is to say, marriage among people of the same sex, because marriage is, in the opinion of such candidates, something religious. In expressing this opinion they seemed to demonstrate not being familiar with article 226 of the Brazilian Constitution, providing for civil marriages, or, in other words, not being aware of the secular nature of marriage, identifying it as the religious marriage. Notwithstanding, when taking office, the President is required to commit to enforce the Constitution.
In March/April 2011 allegations of trafficking of influence are made against the then Presidential Chief of Staff, Antônio Palocci. Members of the Legislative threaten to summon him to Congress to explain the facts. Religious fundamentalists in Parliament, headed by Deputy Anthony Garotinho (belonging to the Party of the Republic, the acronym for which is PR/RJ in Portuguese ) have an appointment with the President and announce that they will summon the Minister unless the videoclip for the “anti homophobic kit”3, which would be shown in schools where there were instances of
1 Jorge Beloqui, is a PhD Professor in Mathematics at Universidade São Paulo/Instituto de Matemática e Estatística (USP/IME). He is a Counsellor for the Grupo de Apoio a Vida (GIV), belongs to the Curators for ABIA and is a member of the National Network of HIV+ (RNP+) Individuals. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2Veriano Terto Jr, Psychologist, Phd In Public Health. General Coordinator of the Brazilian Interdiscliplinary Aids Association (ABIA, as per the acronym in Portuguese) (email@example.com)
3 Set of audio-visual and written materials on the theme of homophobia at school produced in 2011 by the Ministry of Health, aiming to reduce acts of discrimination and prejudice against homosexual students in Brazilian schools.
homophobia, pursuant to a decision of the Ministry of Education, at the time under the coordination of Fernando Haddad, is withdrawn. The videoclip is withdrawn and the President states that the government shall not favor any sexual options. This videoclip had the approval of UNESCO and UNAIDS.
b. Some months later, another frustration: on Aids Day, December 1st, 2011, after announcing the decision to launch a campaign for young homosexuals, the government produced two pieces considered confusing, superficial and inneffective. They did not address HIV, young people, or homosexuals.
Epidemiological Data Law 8080/90 (Article 7, sub-item VII) provides that epidemiological data must be used by the Unified Health System (SUS, as per the acronym in Portuguese), “for the establishment of priorities, allocation of resources and program guidance”.
The Epidemiological Bulletin on Aids, issued on November 28, 2011, shows that the incidence of the disease has risen in this population in the last few years. From 1998 to 2010, the percentage of cases in the heterosexual population aged 15 to 24 fell 20,1%. Among homosexuals and bisexuals in the same age bracket, according to the nomenclature of the Bulletin, there has been an increase of 10,1% (Source: Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis of the Ministry of Health, 2011).
Let us review the Aids cases reported in men aged 15 to 24 between 1980 and 2009, according to the site: www.aids.gov.br. We have omitted the analysis of the data for 2010 and 2011 whose notification is probably delayed. A quick reading of the Bulletin immediately shows that, excluding cases of ignored transmission, cases in homosexuals are increasing in absolute numbers and equal the absolute numbers for heterosexuals in 2009. If one applies the wider classification of “Men who have sex with Men”(MSM), we see that the sum of Aids cases involving homosexuals and bisexuals is comparable or even higher than the Aids cases in heterosexual men. Thus, the number of cases of Aids in MSM always surpasses the number of cases in heterosexual men. It is possible to further detail this analysis, comparing the rates of incidence of AIDS in homosexual men, MSM and heterosexual men. It is well known, the proportion of homosexual men and MSM among the general population is lower than the proportion of heterosexual men.
In an article published in the Public Health Magazine (Revista de Saúde Pública, 2008, the quocient of the rates of incidence of AIDS among MSM and heterosexuals between the ages of 15 and 49 is estimated for the period comprised between 1996 and 2003. In 2003, MSM presented a rate of AIDS incidence that was 6 to 18 times higher than the rate for heterosexual men. This variation is due to the different estimates for the proportion of the MSM and heterosexual populations. When calculations are updated, we see that, starting in 2003, rates of incidence for the MSM population begin to
increase as compared to rates for heterosexual men. In 2009 the incidence rate for MSM was between 6.9 and 21.1 times higher than the rates for heterosexual men. According to the methodology used by the article, we used the same estimates for the population between the ages of 15 and 24 up to the year 2009. The incidence rate for MSM is between 12.2 and 37.5 times higher than the rate for heterosexual men in 2009. The rate has been increasing since 2003, when it was between 9.2 and 28.3 times higher than the rate for heterosexual men. Subsequently, the results published in a survey of the Ministry of Health (Survey on Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices, PCAP, as per the acronym in Portuguese, 2009) showed an HIV prevalence rate in MSM of 10.5%, that is to say, in each ten MSM adults, one is affected by HIV.
Going beyond the epidemiological data, we may highlight some social determinants: to effectively face the AIDS epidemic in MSM it is necessary to act upon them. The Perseu Abramo Foundation4 published its study “Sexual Diversity and Homophobia in Brazil: intolerance and respect to sexual differences” in 2009, indicating that 92% of the population recognizes that there is prejudice against LGBT individuals and that 28% recognizes their own prejudice against LGBT individuals. This percentage is five times higher than the prejudice against the black and elderly populations, also identified in the Foundation’s publication.
The 2012 Carnival Campaign
Epidemiological data led the Ministry of Health (MS, as per the acronym in Portuguese) to prioritize young homosexual men. The whole campaign was launched on February 2nd at the site of the Acadêmicos da Rocinha Samba School, in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone.
In the ceremony, four videoclips were shown, which were to be exhibited on national television, three before Carnival and one after it.
The following day, February 3, the videoclips were posted on the site of the Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis of the Ministry of Health, including a videoclip that showed two young men talking in a nightclub.
That videoclip was available there only for four or five days, and was removed by order of the Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha.
An epidemic of versions and contradictions
The Ministry of Health has denied a veto. “This videoclip is not meant for unrestricted TV viewing or for the Internet, it was posted by mistake. It is supposed to be shown
4 Foundation started in 1996 in São Paulo by the Labor Party. Its goals are research, academic production and political education.
only at closed venues, such as nightclubs”, journalist Leônidas Albuquerque of the Ministry of Health Press Office said to the journalist Conceição Lemes. According to the M.oH. journalist: “the videoclip for TV is its final production phase.”
In the Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis, a rumor started that the material had been vetoed by the Presidential Cabinet. This was confirmed by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo. The Minister of Health denies the existence of such veto. According to the official version of events, the material contained incorrections, including the absence of subtitles. However, in the video posted on the site of the Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis, the subtitles were there. When questioned, the Minister asserted that by the 12th of that month, the campaign would be airing.
Civil society organizations viewed the decision of the Minister of Health to order the removal of the material as a clear indication of retrocess, mainly in light of facts that had taken place in the recent past (see above).
According to news circulated by Agência Brasil – an agency of the Federal Government and managed by Empresa Brasil de Comunicação – the Press Office of the Ministry of Health informed that it was “a mistake” on the part of Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis to post on its site a videoclip with scenes of a homosexual couple touching intimately in a nightclub. The movie is part of the AIDS/sexually transmitted diseases prevention campaign for this year’s Carnival.
“According to the MS’s press office, the movie was made to be shown exclusively at closed venues, catering to the homosexual public, and it should not have been made available on the internet, says Agência Brasil. However, according to an article written by journalist Ligia Formenti for the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo, the MS Press Office stated that the material intended for unrestricted TV viewing starting the following week was the same as the one posted on the site, albeit in a shorter version.
On Twitter, the Minister of Health, Alexandre Padilha, stated on February 09, 2012 that there was no veto. “The Ministry prepared a wide communications plan to air the AIDS prevention campaign during the 2012 Carnival. To that effect, several different videoclips, radio and advertising pieces were produced, and will be distributed in different ways, for different target audiences”.
The Minister’s note states further that “the videoclip posted on the Department’s portal will be used in closed venues, such as nightclubs and events that attract the target audience of the campaign. Just as the videoclip with singer Michel Teló was produced for use in social networks and radio pieces for regional radio stations”.
The release on the website of Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis contradicts the note from the Minister, stating:
“The videoclips to be shown on TV and on the internet depict situations in which the target audience – young gay men and a heterosexual couple – are about to have unprotected intercourse. In both cases, fantasy characters show up with a condom”.
The social movement speaks up and reviews the videoclips
In a letter dated February 08, 2012 the Articulação Gay, a collection of several groups, publicly requests that President Dilma and Minister Padilha lift the veto on the gay themed videoclip. In addition, the AIDS/NGO Forum of the State of São Paulo, in a meeting on the February 10th approved a Letter of Repudiation addressed to the Federal Government. We transcribe excerpts of this letter below:
“We contest the version circulated by the Ministry of Health that the videoclip censored would not be aired on TV, being intended only for closed venues for the homosexual public. This is evidence of the governmental veto: 1) The videoclip was shown during the launching of the campaign pieces on February 2, in Rio de Janeiro; 2) A description of the videoclip, as being intended for TV, is contained in a text widely used by the Ministry of Health; 3) The videoclip was removed from the official website of Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases and Aids without any explanation; 4) The technical characteristics of the videoclip meet the commercial standards used by Brazilian television, including a 30 second format, language appropriate for the general public, as well as aesthetics and a narrative that are equally typical of a traditional TV campaign.”
As a matter of fact, in the videoclip with the two young gay men there are only kisses and hugs and nothing indicates they are about to have intercourse, as is the case of the videoclip for heterosexual population, in which the couple rolls around in the sand.
The Network of Young People living with HIV stated in its letter entitled “The Carnival of Intolerance” that “if two young people of the same sex being intimate in an AIDS prevention campaign is considered scandalous in Brazil to the point that the campaign must be withdrawn, these people do not watch or pretend not to watch soap operas and reality shows.”
Gay magazine A Capa (February 15, 2012) stated:
“We could perhaps imagine that what was produced was a videoclip with scenes that are typical of post-pornography, which would offend most people watching it. Or that it would not be appropriate for the image of homosexuals which is becoming more and more gentrified. But no. It is altogether conventional and institutional. Unfortunately, it is far from being eroticized material. The eroticization of the condom is necessary for a preventive approach because it is important to make it more seductive and less offputting to widen its use. It adds: “Can you imagine what would happen if the videoclip prepared by the Ministry is in fact shown in closed venues during the Carnival balls? It’s going to spoil
the moment! It’s counterproductive. It only works for our conservative Brazilian TV which, after all, does not even show same sex kissing (stress added).
The Gay Group GLICH (Homosexual Freedom, Equality and Citizenship) and the Gay Parade Articulation, both from the city of Feira de Santana (state of Bahia) also penned a Letter of Repudiation relating to the replacement of the videoclip: “the website of the Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis contains a note stating that: Young gay people aged 15 to 24 are the main focus of the Ministry of Health campaign for this year’s Carnival. This action follows up on the theme launched on AIDS Day, last December 1st”. The Letter goes on: “this does not reflect reality, considering that, in practice, neither in the December 1st campaign nor in Carnival itself there is a focus on young gay people, particularly on TV, which is the means of communication with the broadest reach to the Brazilian population. On the contrary, gays are referenced negatively in both campaigns, despite the fact that they should be the main focus.
INSTITUTIONAL HOMOPHOBIA that has been perceived in this government, contrary to what the supposed campaigns preach, has more and more placed the homosexual population in a socially vulnerable position. Because of that, while INSTITUTIONAL HOMOPHOBIA is present in this government, Gays, MSM and Transvestites shall continue to be the victims of AIDS and to be treated as criminals by society, because the Brazilian Government refuses to show the way we really live, kiss and that the most common way for HIV infection is through sex”.(stress added)
ABIA expressed an identical opinion on February 16th, 2012. It also points to the relationships among the places where gays are most vulnerable, primarily younger people, such as schools and their own homes.
“[These vetoes] exposed one more picture of the homophobic and hypocritical way in which the binome homosexuality-youth is treated in Brazil.
From the youngest age, the situation of these young people at school is unsustainable. Because of prejudice and of the omission of teachers and school management, these young people are often expelled or forced to leave school. Similarly, they are frequently made to leave home which should be a place to find shelter and safety, because of hatred from family members and neighbors. Because of being abandoned in two of the environments that should provide them with shelter and safety, these youth become an easy prey for those who seek to exploit them or for anyone who promises a way out from the horrors they face.
This year, the M. of Health Carnival campaign, directed at young homosexuals (according to statistics of the Ministry, the segment of the population most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic), was the subject of vetoes from the government itself and was suspended from an wide viewing TV release, being restricted to “specific” places such
as bars and nightclubs attended by this audience, in a clear act of discrimination and censorship, as if the situations of vulnerability were limited to these places and did not exist more broadly within society.
In the meantime, Brazilian diplomacy depicts abroad the Department of Sexually Transmissible Diseases, Aids and Viral Hepatitis as an example to the world, as a bastion of Human Rights and sells Rio de Janeiro as a gay tourist destination. In contrast with this, in our national reality what we see is hypocrisy, censorship and homophobia. The results are and will be more and more obvious: an increase of HIV cases and sexual exploitation and violence of every kind against a significant segment of the Brazilian youth.”
In reality, another argument that confirms that the videoclip was for unrestricted TV viewing is that considering the target audience aged 15 to 24, a portion of which includes minors who in all likelihood could not attend such specific places.
The fact of not wanting to air a scene of hugging and kissing on unrestricted TV channels shows that, despite the Supreme Federal Court (STF, as per the acronym in Portuguese) having, on May 05, 2011, approved civil unions between individuals of the same sex, based on the principle of equality, the Executive Branch resists admitting that this form of partnership is something that deserves the same level of respect as a partnership between people of opposite sexes, be it a stable union or not. Showing this on TV would be very valuable for gay youngsters and transvestites who are discriminated against in their homes, at school and in their work environments, and it would probably help to foster the discussion of more inclusive policies, decreasing one of the social determinants of this vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The explicit veto reinforces the opposite view: the Executive Branch does not support equality in love or sex for same sex individuals. And it prefers, as the letter from the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transgender (ABGLT, as per the acronym in Portuguese) states, to segregate men who have sex with men to their “specific places”, outside the general media.
The new videoclip
The videoclip provides epidemiological data, talking about percentages and proportions of AIDS cases. The M. of Health, in its rush to present something for TV that appeased its censors, seems to think that the language of numbers, percentages and proportions is more easily understood by the population than hugging, kissing and playing on the beach. The new videoclip advises one to wear a condom several times, but it does not show any. Videoclips in prior campaigns showed a condom. No image! Was perhaps the image of a condom also vetoed?
It states in the end “There is no cure for AIDS”, which is unforgivable in a program that has prided itself in being at the cutting edge of the fight against HIV. In the AIDS conferences of the International AIDS Society in Vienna (2010) and in Rome (2011), the international scientific community in attendance agreed that proposing a cure for AIDS as something to be researched is viable, according to recent studies that point in that direction. For a Program that has agreed to be regarded as a world reference, it would have been more appropriate to include in the campaign a message like: “together we will beat AIDS, together we will work for a cure or find a cure” or similar messages, rather than repeating an old slogan that has been so widely criticized.