Ultimately, many Brazilians don’t mind if you’re gay or lesbian, but they don’t want to be reminded of it; i.e., they can deal with the fact of a same-sex romance in theory but don’t want to see signs of it—public kissing or hand-holding—or hear you referring explicitly to your homosexuality. Two men or women living together, traveling together, or sharing a hotel room is not a problem, but the implicit agreement is that you’re two friends, even if people may suspect you’re not. Although the drag queen and flamboyant queen are very much an accepted part of the culture (during Carnaval, even in small rural towns, the most macho of men don wigs, miniskirts, and lipstick), there is a difference between spectacle and humor and the reality of day-to-day life.
Brazil is ultimately a macho culture, and explicit signs of homosexuality can incite insults and even violence. Even in supposedly cosmopolitan cities such as Rio and São Paulo, violence against gays is not unheard of. In the more conservative Northeast and rural areas, it is even more common. Meanwhile, although gay marriage is a long way off (and violently opposed by conservative Christian groups, particularly those in government), gays and lesbians can take advantage of união estável (stable union) legislation that protects rights of all couples, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, that live together as a family unit. Among other benefits, união estável ensures that same-sex couples can share health insurance and inherit property and that a Brazilian can sponsor a foreign partner from overseas. In 2010, over 60,000 same-sex couples in Brazil were living together legally under the união estável regime.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil.