Marinalva Santana

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2013


This profile was prepared when Marinalva Santana was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
By going outside of the traditional methods for achieving legislation, Marinalva Santana has devised a way to win the legal rights of Brazil’s LGBT population. The Brazilian government is divided into three Branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. By understanding this system from the inside, Marinalva saw how to “go around” the Legislative branch’s bureaucracy by using the Judiciary power to make policy and achieve the rights of the LGBT population at a national level. Most remarkably, she started from Brazil’s most conservative state, Piaui, enabling her to model success for others to copy across Brazil.

Since the consolidation of democracy in Brazil in 1985, its people are little by little appropriating the tools for citizenship. Instead of petitioning the Legislative power, notorious for its bureaucracy and lag time in trying to approve a bill, as groups have done in the past, Marinalva pioneered in using the Judiciary as a tool for changing public policy. To institutionalize this fight for the rights of the LGBT population, she founded Matizes Group in 2002.

Through local Judiciary officials with national sway, Marinalva found a way to influence national laws from her office in Piaui. Based on extensive research and legal groundwork, Matizes’ claims are accompanied by concrete and viable solutions, increasing their chances of implementation and serving as a roadmap for other activists. In 2009, for example, Matizes challenged Brazil’s Receita Federal (equivalent to the IRS)- on regulation preventing LGBT taxpayers from declaring their partners as dependents for income tax purposes. By activating a local representative of the national Judicial branch, the Piaui state prosecutor, Marinalva was able to change this convention at a national level. As a result of this claim, LGBT taxpayers in Piaui were Brazil’s first to enjoy this right, established by the Judiciary Power and later extended to the other taxpayers throughout the country. Similarly, in 2006, Marinalva and Matizes challenged the Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency’s (ANVISA) prohibition of gays and bisexuals donating blood. Through this strategy, Marinalva was able to provide the LGBT community both in Piaui and across Brazil with rights that were formerly denied to them.

After forging this path to the legal means for the LGBT community to prosper in Brazil, Marinalva saw that other segments of society needed to be influenced to truly transform the way others view and value the LGBT community and to ensure their integration into a society that has been historically hostile. She is now focused on reinforcing mainstream support by elevating sexual diversity issues through universities, public spaces, and in the home. Marinalva does this by partnering with universities to initiate academic research and formalize discussion of diversity in the classroom, by putting the LGBT community at the center of the local cultural agenda, and by supporting and learning from the families of LGBT individuals in order to affect comprehensive change.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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