Another visit to the United States will likely bring another round of protests and official rebukes of far-right Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, as American activists and lawmakers opposed to his his racist, sexist, homophobic and environmentally destructive policies attempt to make him persona non grata in the U.S.
Seven members and members-elect of the Dallas city council blasted Bolsonaro before he arrived in the city on Wednesday, urging the organizations behind the Brazilian president’s visit to cancel scheduled events with a leader who, they said in a letter, “represents a deep disdain for democracy and civil society.”
The councilmembers urged the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth ― a nonprofit group that hosts international leaders and events on global affairs and will hold an event with Bolsonaro ― to cancel his appearance.
“Providing President Bolsonaro a platform dangerously normalizes his authoritarianism and shows tacit support for his discriminatory actions, words, and policy positions,” the councilmembers said in the letter. “President Bolsonaro does not reflect the values of the City of Dallas.”
Scott Griggs, a city councilman who helped organize the letter, said Bolsonaro’s visit represented “a terrible step backward” for Dallas.
“Dallas is a welcoming city built on love,” Griggs, who is running for mayor this year, told HuffPost by phone Wednesday. “Welcoming Bolsonaro sends the wrong message not only to our city but to our state, our country and the world.”
LGBTQ groups across Dallas also planned protests against Bolsonaro for both days of his visit to the city, in an effort to draw attention to homophobic statements he has made and anti-LGBTQ policies his government has implemented.
Bolsonaro has said he’d rather have a dead son than a gay one and that he would punch two men kissing in the street if he saw them. His government has stripped legal protections from LGBTQ people.
It was unclear how large planned protests might be, though Facebook events calling on residents to “Cancel Bolsonaro” drew more than 100 responses from people saying they planned to attend either a smaller, daytime event on Wednesday or a larger protest before a speech Thursday afternoon.
The protests were organized by Resource Center, an LGBTQ community center that serves the Dallas area and has spent the last week urging the Dallas World Affairs Council to cancel its event with Bolsonaro, too.
“To have someone like this, someone who is so notoriously homophobic and transphobic, turn up in our town is shameful and appalling,” said Rafael McDonnell, Resource Center’s communications and advocacy manager.
Bolsonaro decided to visit Texas after abruptly canceling a visit to New York City two weeks ago, after lawmakers and protesters spent weeks rallying against his planned trip to the city. He planned meetings with former President George W. Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) during the brief trip.
In New York, Bolsonaro had been scheduled to attend a gala organized by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, which planned to honor him with its annual “Person of the Year” award.
But the event drew widespread opposition once Bolsonaro’s presence was confirmed, and multiple New York City venues ― including the American Museum of Natural History ― canceled plans to host the gala amid criticism from LGBTQ organizations and environmental groups opposed to Bolsonaro’s targeting of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous peoples who live in it. A trio of the event’s major corporate sponsors ― Delta Airlines, Bain & Co. and The Financial Times newspaper ― backed out of the gala.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also slammed Bolsonaro ahead of the visit.
“He’s dangerous not just because of his overt racism and homophobia, but because he is, unfortunately, the person with the most ability to be able to impact what happens in the Amazon going forward,” de Blasio told WNYC.
“Good riddance,” de Blasio tweeted after Bolsonaro canceled the visit. “Your hatred isn’t welcome here.”
Days after canceling, Bolsonaro changed course and announced plans to visit Dallas instead.
A spokesperson for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said that he would welcome Bolsonaro “as is customary for the mayor to do for democratically elected presidents of major countries.” But Rawlings will not meet with or attend any events with Bolsonaro, a spokesman for the mayor told HuffPost.
In response to criticism from Resource Center, the Dallas World Affairs Council said that its decision to host Bolsonaro is rooted in “the organization’s “belief that free speech and diverse arguments ought to be heard and evaluated on their substance.”
“As an organization, we do not endorse any speaker’s views, and our hosting this or any meeting should not be in any way construed that the Council condones their actions or statements,” James Falk, the president and CEO of the organization, said in a statement to HuffPost. “The Council serves an integral role in our community, and we are very conscious of our position and the values of North Texas. The purpose of our organization is grounded in a belief that viewpoints from democratically elected global leaders ought to be heard and evaluated on their substance.”
McDonnell balked at that assertion.
“This is not an issue of free speech,” he said. “You can’t denigrate and demonize a particular community ― and it’s not just the LGBTQ community. They’ve demonized indigenous people, they’ve demonized the working class. There are multiple groups that have been vilified by this president.”
“Hate speech,” McDonnell added, “should never, never, never be rewarded.”
Bolsonaro also faced major protests in Brazil on Wednesday, as students, teachers and demonstrators swarmed the streets of major cities in opposition to his government’s plans to freeze spending on public university budgets. Bolsonaro dismissed the protests, telling reporters in Texas that they were driven by a small band of left-wing militants and that the demonstrators were “useful idiots.” Bolsonaro was surrounded by supporters upon arrival, according to Brazilian reports.
But in Dallas, his opponents drew inspiration from those demonstrations, as well.
“We should be in solidarity with those who suffer under his leadership,” the letter from the Dallas councilmembers said, referencing the education protests.
In New York, the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce event went on as scheduled Tuesday night. Even without Bolsonaro in attendance, protesters rallied outside, telling attendees that they were supporting a “fascist” and a “racist,” according to Gothamist.
Bolsonaro is scheduled to deliver a speech in Dallas on Thursday afternoon. Protesters, both Griggs and McDonnell said, plan to demonstrate outside.
“It’s important,” Griggs said, “that we stand up to figures like this.”
This has been updated with a response from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.