Jean Wyllys, a journalist born in a poor family in the countryside of Bahia, is one of the main leaders of the Brazilian gay movement today. In the last few days he was all over the country’s media, celebrating the unanimous approval of same sex civil union by the Supreme Court last Thursday. The decision introduced a series of new rights for homosexual couples (the last Census indicates that there are 60,000 such unions in the country, half of them in the Southeast region). Now, gays and lesbians can, for instance, buy a house and pay taxes together, extend to the partner their health plans, obtain a pension in case of separation, adopt the partner’s children and inherit their companions’ assets.
The decision illustrates a subtle, but important change in Brazilian society. Even if violence against gays is still prevalent, the majority of the population seems to be getting more tolerant. These days, coming out is more acceptable and, in some cases, even rewarded.
Wyllys is the poster boy for this new reality. Since last year, he is the first openly gay Congressman in the country. He was elected thanks to the popularity he obtained in 2005, when he won Big Brother Brasil, the reality show that thrives exposing beautiful bodies and human pettiness. But this was not an ordinary competitor.
He was named after Aero Wyllys, the automobile, by his father, that worked repairing cars, whenever his heavy alcoholism allowed, and his mother, that supported her many kids washing clothes for richer families in the river banks. By ten he was working, selling candy floss on the streets. But he was an exceptional student and got a scholarship for a top private school, which guaranteed him a computer programming job at 18, that paid for his college studies. In his teens, when he first perceived his sexual orientation, he was also very active in church youth movements – at the time heavily influenced by Liberation Theology, a movement with strong political, socialist orientation.
The congressman’s trajectory is fascinating and rare – a rag to riches tale in which a popular TV show gave visibility to someone with real merit. And remember that the viewers of Big Brother were the ones that decided that he, a homosexual, should win the competition.
Popular TV may have a social role, after all.
You might also want to read the following posts: