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Gender-neutral toilets divide gay community in Brazil

January 21, 2011 |  2:23 pm

Brazil samba gay toilets carnaval woman madeinbrazil

Boys, Girls, and Gender-Neutral?

A prominent samba dance school in Brazil has decided to make it so, generating questions over the reaches of rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people -- even in the simple act of using a toilet.

Unidos da Tijuca, one of the top samba schools in Rio de Janeiro, established separate bathrooms for gay and transgender people at new facilities it inaugurated on Jan. 8. Rio, considered one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, is preparing for the massive Carnival festival happening in early March.

Media reports in Brazil said that at least one other samba school in Rio already has such "gender-neutral" restrooms. Use of the new third bathrooms at Unidos da Tijuca -- which was named champion of Carnival last year -- is optional, the school maintains.

But with the annual pre-Easter party fast approaching, the new bathrooms have generated a debate among Brazil's gay community over whether third bathrooms help or hinder LGBT rights. Some argue the separate toilets create a "safe space" for gay people, while others say they resemble past practices of segregation among Brazilian blacks and whites.

Claudio Nascimento, head of the Rio state council on LGBT rights, called the toilets "Carnival apartheid" (links in Portuguese, with automated translation to English). The separate bathrooms "go beyond common sense and encourage homophobia," Nascimento said.

Karina Kara, identified as a transvestite at Unidos da Tijuca, told the Globo news network that the new toilets offer haven. "There are things that we want to do in a men's room, or female, and don't feel comfortable," Kara said. "A gay bathroom will be wonderful, because we will be able to do what we want."

Yet voices persist that the gender-neutral bathrooms amount to discrimination against gays. "This can only be a thing from strongly biased men," said Katyla Valverde, identified as a transvestite, according to O Dia.

Homophobia remains a pressing issue in Brazil, where killings of gays have shot up 62% since 2009, noted Agence France-Presse. For Globo's video report on the toilets controversy, in Portuguese, watch here.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A Unidos da Tijuca dancer performs during Carnival in 2010 in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: MadeinBrazil.typepad.com

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