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Erika Hilton and Lula

Erika Hilton, the first Black transgender woman elected to Brazil's National Congress, poses for a campaign trail photo with leftist presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on September 26, 2022. (Photo: Erika Hilton/Twitter)

Brazilians Elect Three Transgender Progressives to Congress

"The struggle does not stop here, but continues and grows from that moment," said one victorious candidate. "Now my commitment is to elect Lula president at the end of October and I call on all my voters to do the same!"

Brett Wilkins

Brazilians made history Sunday by electing not just one but three transgender women—all progressives—to the country's National Congress in federal elections that featured more than 300 LGBTQ+ aspirants, around 80 of them trans.

"We won the election, despite the attacks from sectors of the left, attacks from Christian fundamentalists, and death threats from the extreme right."

While leftists expressed disappointment after Workers' Party presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva fell just short of the 50%+1 threshold needed to avert an October 30 runoff against far-right incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro, human rights advocates pointed to historic victories by LGBTQ+ and Indigenous candidates as signs of social progress long overdue.

In addition to victories by Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) candidates Sônia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá—the first Indigenous women to represent their respective states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais in Congress—three transgender women, two of them on the PSOL ticket, declared victory.

Erika Hilton, a São Paulo city council member representing PSOL, will be the first Black trans woman to serve in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, where she says she will continue fighting for the same social and healthcare reforms she's championed at the local level.

"We are going to get off the street corners, we are going to get out of jails, we are going to get off crack corners and prostitution and start to think about public policies and legislation," Hilton—who was a sex worker for several years after she was kicked out of her family home at age 14—told The Guardian.

"Our mandate in Brasília will be more organized, more committed, and closer to people," the 29-year-old added.

Duda Salabert, a city council member from Belo Horizonte—the capital of the landlocked southeastern state of Minas Gerais—and a member of the leftist Democratic Labor Party, said she received more votes than any candidate for the Chamber of Deputies in the state's history.

"I am the first trans person elected to the National Congress," Salabert, who is 41 years old, tweeted. "We won the election, despite the attacks from sectors of the left, attacks from Christian fundamentalists, and death threats from the extreme right."

Robeyoncé Lima, the first Black transgender lawyer in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, tweeted that "we are a force to be reckoned with and no one else will stop us" after winning her race to represent PSOL in the Chamber of Deputies.

"This is a societal project and we are moving forward," the 27-year-old added. "We were always told that it was not possible, but we are here, in the fight for all of our dignity."

Observers noted the significance of Hilton, Salabert, and Lima being elected to the Congress of a country that leads the world in transgender murders. Writing for Pink News, Lily Wakefield underscored how trans people have "endured years of increasing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence" during Bolsonaro's self-described homophobic rule.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Hilton said that "the reality for trans people in Brazil is shocking. We are treated as the ones who must be executed in the most horrendous ways. That is why I want to become a member of Congress. So we can rescue this country."

Lima stressed that the task at hand is now ensuring Lula wins the runoff round.

"The struggle does not stop here, but continues and grows from that moment," she tweeted. "Now my commitment is to elect Lula president at the end of October and I call on all my voters to do the same!"

Hilton said that "Bolsonaro is a fascist. Bolsonaro despises humanity... He is someone who legitimizes violence, who facilitates the circulation of guns, someone opposed to the rights of Indigenous people, someone who disregards women, who hates LGBTQ+ people."

"Lula is the one who will confront fascism—the deaths, the poverty, the misery that Brazil is going through," she added. "As long as I'm alive, I'll fight like a lioness to protect what I believe in and avenge the voices of my people."

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