Brazil drag queen fights hate with children’s stories in ‘political act of resistance’

Pacing the room, Reis uses dolls and voices to perform the story, adapted from a children’s book by Brazilian author Janaina Leslao.

Brazilian drag queen Paulo Reis, known as Helena Black, uses dolls and voices to perform the story, adapted from a children’s book by Brazilian author Janaina Leslao. Photo: AFP

It veers from the stereotypical princess tale – but keeps the happy ending.

“And people from all the neighbouring kingdoms came to the wedding: some out of friendship, and others out of curiosity to see two women getting married,” Reis concluded.

The audience bursts into applause.

“Children aren’t born prejudiced, homophobic or racist. They only learn it from adults,” Reis said.

Brazil tops the list of the most violent countries in the world for trans people, with 100 murdered in the year through September last year, according to rights group Transgender Europe, which monitored 35 countries.

Reis has been performing LGBTQ themed stories for children and adults since 2017, taking his act to cultural centres and libraries across Brazil.

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Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital, sponsored the initiative, dubbed, “Mummy, there’s a drag queen telling stories!”

“People think a man dressed as a woman has to be trivial, but a drag queen can also occupy spaces beyond nightclubs and sexualised jobs,” Reis said.

He calls his performances “a political act of resistance” in the face of prejudice.

Vanesa Marques, a 44-year-old artisan, attended with her young daughter in Guarulhos, near Sao Paulo.

“I was curious, but as a Catholic, I was a little worried,” she said.

But “I broke through my prejudices, and (the event) introduced my daughter to LGBT issues with the same message I want to teach her: we have to love each other, regardless of our preferences, race or religion”.

The coordinator of the community centre in Sao Jose dos Campos, Roberval Rodolfo de Oliveira, says programming like Reis’ act helps “enlist children as agents of peace against violence”.

“It’s also an opportunity to display the artistic talents of people who are often excluded,” he said.

Brazilian drag queen Paulo Reis, known as Helena Black, puts make-up on before performing. Photo: AFP

His response to those who dislike the choice of programming: “Making people uncomfortable is an inherent part of art”.

Reis has also taken his message to the corporate sector.

He once performed “The Princess and the Seamstress” for workers at an oil refinery operated by state-run company Petrobras.

“It was a good experience to be able to tell an LGBTQ story to a mainly male audience, in a typically heterosexual environment,” he said.

He now dreams of taking his show to the screen.

That would help ensure that “Brazil doesn’t just ignore another gay black artist … like it usually does”, he said.

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