AuthorSosa, Joseph Jay

Focusing on queer protest cultures in downtown Sao Paulo, this article investigates how urban spaces function as a "national stage" for the public dramas of political crises that took place between 2010 and 2018. In the culture war debates over sexual minority and gender identity rights that pervaded national politics in this period, protest served as a key venue to articulate not only queer visibility but queer political affect. The key to these protests is their site-specificity. The street is not just the site where protest takes place--rather it is an important ideological construct within Brazilian society and political imagination. Drawing on performance studies with an emphasis on the choreography and design of protest, this article examines how protest as a genre of street occupation frames queer lifeworlds as it presents them to the national public. LGBT people's struggle over and attachments to distinct locations in Sao Paulo, such as Paulista Avenue, become operationalized as part of the message of protest. Because of Sao Paulo's concentration of news media, the streets of Sao Paulo's downtown district play a distinct role in transmitting nationalized sentiment.

KEYWORDS: Sao Paulo; queerness; protest choreography; public culture; modernity; urban space

"Fundamentalista, hoje os gays tomaram a Paulista!" (Fundamentalists! Today the gays have taken the Paulista!), chanted the protest crowd of approximately 1,200 people including university students, LGBT social movement organizers, and political officials. Marching along Paulista Avenue, a three-kilometer-long thoroughfare packed with cars, subways, busses, bicycles, and pedestrians, the protest this day revolved around anti-queer violence and demanding federal antidiscrimination protections. The choice of venue was symbolic as well as strategic. Branded as the "postcard of Sao Paulo," Paulista Avenue is one of the most well-known and photographed urban landscapes in Brazil. Protesters courted the attention of television news crews and print journalist photographers as well as passersby taking pictures of the protest crowd.

Because of its media attention and accessibility to transit, "the Paulista," as it is often called, is one of Sao Paulo's preferred sites for political demonstrations large and small, organized by social movements across the ideological spectrum. Paulista Avenue and surrounding neighborhoods have also been a space for middle-class gay and lesbian sociability since at least the 1980s. In November 2010, however, the Paulista was the location where four gay men were assaulted with fluorescent lightbulbs. Protesters memorialized the attack by stopping at the commercial building where the event took place and where security cameras had recorded the incident, the video of which would later be broadcast nationally. Once at the building, people coupled off into same-sex pairings and performed a kiss-in. Through their chants around "gays taking the Paulista" and the demonstration of same-sex intimacy, this LGBT protest defiantly territorialized the Paulista as queer. Attracting national political figures and linking the lightbulb attack on the Paulista to a national campaign for LGBT antidiscrimination legislation, the protest was doubly staged for the benefit of municipal and national audiences.

When protesters chanted "gays have taken the Paulista," they laid claim to Sao Paulo's urban space not only to combat anti-queer violence but also to press for federal rights. Addressing their chant to "fundamentalists," protesters imagined these demands directed in opposition to evangelical and conservative Catholic leaders who have become increasingly vocal in Brazil around their opposition to sexual-minority rights-based agenda. (1) Since 2010, street protests have been a particularly visible site where "culture war" battles have taken place over the extension of LGBT minoritarian rights. This article considers how gay and lesbian protesters have used Sao Paulo's urban space, Paulista Avenue in particular, as a national stage, where urban crowds address the national public. It traces the symbolic, historic, and emplaced significations that have engendered Paulista Avenue as a site of national modernity. Queerness has been part of the narrative of modernity of Paulista Avenue and Sao Paulo's urban space. Protests for LGBT rights draw on these significations, as they transmit images of queer street life into national media.

Inaugurated in 1891, Paulista Avenue was designed as a thoroughfare that would expand access from Sao Paulo's historic center to underdeveloped land in the rapidly expanding city. In its first decades of existence, Paulista Avenue had already served as a national stage of sorts--the seignorial mansions that first lined the avenue showcased the powerful Sao Paulo families who dominated much of the political scene during Brazil's First Republic (1889-1930). Slowly replacing the private mansions of the early twentieth century, the period of the late 1930s through the early 1970s saw an impressive verticalization of Paulista Avenue. (2) Paulista Avenue's midcentury skyscrapers reflected, as Andre Nunes notes, a "new recognition and affirmation of modernist architecture in the national scene." (3) By the 1990s, protests on Paulista Avenue exploded as the arterial became a preferred site for protests in the city. As interviewed by anthropologist Heitor Frugoli, cultural and political leaders in this era suggested several motivations for this--the fact that many union headquarters, as well as cultural centers, had relocated to the avenue in intervening years made it a practical location for labor and countercultural actions to be launched there. (4) Paulista Avenue's intersection with several other arteriais (a legacy of its originally intended purpose of connecting different parts of the city) meant that protests there could disrupt traffic on a broad scale. The inauguration of Sao Paulo's third subway line along Paulista Avenue in 1991 also facilitated the mobilization of bigger crowds arriving on the Paulista. Earlier political movements that had utilized mass protest had gathered in the plazas of Sao Paulo's historic center to aggregate large numbers. Both the March 19, 1964, March for the Family with God and For Liberty, often credited with providing the legitimacy for the April 1964 military coup d'etat, and the April 16, 1984, Diretas Ja protest for direct elections and a return to democracy were based in Se Plaza, the founding location of the city. The 1992 "painted faces" protests calling for the impeachment of President Fernando Collor de Mello on charges of corruption, alternatively, had its first major protest on Paulista Avenue before moving subsequent protests to the historic center. In the cycle of protests that have accompanied the "Long Brazilian Crisis" of the past decade, Paulista Avenue has continued to be a site of increasing contentious political action. (5) According to estimates by the municipal Transit and Engineering Authority (CET), traffic-stopping protests on the Paulista increased from an average of fifty per year between 2006 and 2008 to seventy-three per year between 2011 and 2012 to 109 per year between 2013 and 2015. (6)

Paulista Avenue figured as a prominent location for my fieldwork with Sao Paulo LGBT social movement activists. From February 2011 to March 2013, I participated in thirty-four rallies and marches of varying sizes, mostly on the Paulista or in the historic center. (7) Protest grievances ranged from the demand for federal LGBT antidiscrimination legislation to condemning local businesses that harassed or excluded gay or trans patrons. I also accompanied lesbian and gay protesters as they participated in actions beyond LGBT-themed actions--against sexual violence, gentrification, drug criminalization, and police violence. The university-aged gay and lesbian protesters considered in this article were a particular subset within the rich topography of Brazil's LGBT social movement and not representative of the movement as a whole. But they were a particularly visible subset as protests in central areas of Sao Paulo often garnered media attention. Protesters were largely white-identified or appeared to me as lighter-skinned, and only a few people within the queer protest scene in which I was most situated self-identified as Black in public speeches or interpersonal conversations or interviews.

While this article considers a specific group of social actors who operate in Sao Paulo's downtown public spaces, this selection gives an indication of the limits of inclusion offered by utilizing Paulista Avenue as a national stage. For instance, while most protests I attended included the chant: "A Nossa Luta e todo dia, contra racismo, machismo, homofobia" (Our daily struggle is against racism, sexism, and homophobia), the anti-racist power of such a chant was tempered by the predominant whiteness of the protesters in attendance. While whiteness has been a more slippery category in Latin America when applied to some zones of racial formation (family, the body), protests and other street crowds offer a strikingly clear example of how whiteness and antiblackness doubly operate in Brazilian urban environments. Many of Sao Paulo's largest protests over the last years of crisis have ranged the ideological and partisan spectrum in terms of demands; yet, crowd surveys indicate that the plurality of protesters from some of these largest events identify as white. (8) Whiteness is also a category that becomes visible when assessing the differential police treatment of distinct protest actions. (9) Police were always present at the protests that I attended in the course of conducting the primary fieldwork for events that appear in this paper. These features show how mass protest in Brazil over the past decade has become a shorthand to represent popular will--even as the limitations of...

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