A Brazilian archbishop has forced the cancellation of a transgender-led theater production after calling it “a prejudiced and criminal action of disrespect of the Catholic Christian faith.”
Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of Belo Horizonte released a critical statement the day before “The Coronation of Our Lady of the Transvestites” was due to be performed at an arts festival in the city. Crux reported part of the statement:
“‘We demand and hope that the competent authorities and the organizers suspend the event, given that it is an indisputable fomentation to prejudice and discrimination and a disrespect of the values of the Catholic Christian faith,’ the archdiocesan statement said.
“‘They should know they are seriously endangering the peace and the respectful relationship between citizens that is required.’
“The archdiocese’s statement pointed out that ‘it is not acceptable to instrumentalize the Virgin Mary, disrespecting her’ in order to promote ‘an aggression’ against the Catholic faith.
“It concluded by calling all Catholic people to ‘protest, demanding respect and the immediate suspension of this criminal action, that is disrespectful.'”
The claim about “criminal action” by Oliveira de Azevedo, who heads the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil, references a Brazilian law which punishes “publicly vilifying” religious groups with up to a year imprisonment. His statement led Belo Horizonte mayor Alexandre Kalil to cancel the performance, which was being sponsored by the local government. Kalil tweeted, “I defend all liberties. I’m a Catholic, devoted to Saint Rita of Cascia. Don’t worry, nobody will attack any religion. This is not culture.”
But Academia TransLiteraria, a theater group that is largely composed of transgender artists and which produced “The Coronation of Our Lady of the Transvestites”, has defended the play. The group said it does not disrespect anyone’s faith and should not be censored, explaining:
“‘This is not Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus, but another Lady, our transvestite, a lady that is daily excluded from society (she is looked at with horror and contempt), from the world of arts and culture (she is condemned never to have ideas or opinions), from the economy (only prostitution is left for her), from the streets (except for the corners where there is prostitution), and from religion (as if she was not part of the bigger mystery of life). . .
“‘We are open to dialogue and we are against any kind of censorship of art in Brazil. It should be noted that Minas Gerais [the State where Belo Horizonte is located] continues to be the State with the highest number of murders of transvestites and trans people in Brazil, which is the country with the highest number of murders of transvestites and trans people in the world.'”
Oliveira de Azevedo made headlines last month for criticizing the Brazilian Supreme Court’s ruling that anti-LGBTQ violence and hate speech should be criminalized in the same way that race-based discrimination is. He claimed the ruling could imperil religious liberty, an argument the Court rejected.
The archbishop’s latest statement lacks an openness to the arts which push boundaries and can be provocative, and which has saving human lives as one of its goals. Simply cancelling the performance squanders an opportunity for dialogue about the themes and ideas being proposed by a transgender theater group. To suggest it is a “criminal action” if the play challenges the institutional church is extreme. Without knowing the contents of “The Coronation of Our Lady of the Transvestites,” it is hard to determine whether or not it indeed is disrespectful to the Catholic faith as the archbishop claims. But in a nation where LGBTQ people are routinely killed and discriminated against, the situation demands more nuanced engagement and more moderate language than what Oliveira de Azevedo has offered.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 9, 2019