A comment from President Jair Bolsonaro that Brazil must not become a “gay tourism paradise” sparked concerns that LGBT+ people will avoid traveling to the country, fearing violence.
During a talk with reporters on Thursday, Bolsonaro said that Brazil should avoid being known as a gay destination because “we have families.”
He said that tourists were more than welcome to “come here and have sex with a woman.”
“Bolsonaro’s homophobic remarks will have social and economic repercussions for Brazil,” said John Tanzella, president of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, an organization with members in 75 countries.
“His hate speech not only deters LGBTQ+ travelers, but also their allies around the world,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a written statement.
While there is no official data on how much revenue LGBT+ tourism generates in Brazil, major events like Sao Paulo’s annual LGBT+ Pride Parade, and Rio de Janeiro’s gay-friendly Carnival, fill hotels nearly to maximum capacity.
Worldwide, LGBT+ tourists spend around $218 billion a year, according to consulting group Out Now.
“It’s going to have an impact,” said Alfredo Lopes, Rio’s regional president of the Brazilian Association of Hotels.
Lopes added that LGBT+ tourists are very important to Brazil, and that hotels are ready to receive them.
Bolsonaro, a self-proclaimed “proud homophobe”, has made a number of disparaging comments about the LGBT+ community during his more than three decades in politics. Critics believe those comments instigate attacks against the LGBT+ community.
“He puts a target on the back of all LGBT+ people,” congressman David Miranda, a LGBT+ activist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Bolsonaro’s administration declined to comment on the accusations.
This time, Miranda said, Bolsonaro also managed to brand Brazil as a friendly destination for sex tourists, an image the country has fought against in recent years.
The Brazilian LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Tourism issued an open letter after Bolsonaro’s remarks.
“(Bolsonaro) suggests that the government will incentivize sex tourism in Brazilian territory, which is not acceptable from a moral or ethical standpoint,” said the letter.