Lula Ramires runs a comprehensive suite of programs that prepare public school teachers to confront Brazil’s worsening homophobia and build sustained respect for diversity among their students.
A nova ideia
As a former middle-school teacher, Lula is a firm believer in the potential of public schools to shape social attitudes, and he taps this potential to address a problem of particular urgency. In Brazil, a country that leads the world in instances of anti-gay violence and abuse, he works to bring tolerance of diversity, particularly in relation to sexual orientation, to every teacher and every student.
Through a project that links a new rights-focused curriculum with intensive programs of teacher preparation, Lula has begun to fill a huge gap in his country’s efforts at diversity education. His project is the first in Brazil to offer a coherent suite of materials supporting teachers in an exploration of difference and tolerance, and it has grown quickly to meet compelling need. It started in 2001 in São Paulo with 25 teachers; in the past two years, 5,000 teachers have participated, gaining the resources, support, and continuous training they need to introduce sensitive topics in the classroom. Lula supports a broad array of parallel efforts, building tolerance and respect for human rights through public marches, health outreach, and youth leadership programs. Through clear and rigorous evaluations that prove the impact of his programs, Lula hopes to bring his work—both within and outside schools—to ever-broader audiences, and to advance tolerance of difference throughout Brazil.
Brazil is a world leader in intolerance and violence linked to homophobia. In 2000 alone, 130 gay men were murdered in the country as a result of their sexual orientation. A citizen sector organization based in Bahia reports that five years later, hate crimes against gays resulted in one homicide as frequently as every two days. Fear and societal prejudice mean that many gay men and women lead double lives, choosing to hide their sexual preferences from friends and family. Widespread misunderstanding pervades Brazilian society: a UNESCO survey reveals that 15 percent of children think that homosexuality is a disease, and 25 percent of them do not want to have classmates who are gay.
These problems are even more serious in the peripheral areas of great urban centers, where discrimination is much higher due to lack of education. In these peripheral regions, the GLBT community is dispersed, almost invisible, and members of the community cannot rely on protective policies, much less on proactive measures to combat diversity. The Ministry of Education has attached outlines for diversity training to its curriculum, but provided no substantive support for teachers to implement these outlines. The conversations upon which such curriculum depends are extremely sensitive: they are confusing for children, and they often provoke concern—even anger—among parents. With no training and orientation to enable teachers to deliver sensitive messages, changes to the curriculum have no significant impact on what children actually learn.
In 2001, Lula Ramires began an experimental program with 25 teachers from the public system in São Paulo. The purpose of this pilot effort, supported by the Ministry of Justice, was to prepare these teachers to act as experts on the matter of sexual diversity, spreading knowledge, and training other teachers in their respective regions. From the success of this small initiative, Lula learned that systematic, ongoing work with teachers could produce great benefits. He developed a comprehensive model of diversity education that promotes meaningful discussion on human rights, cultural difference, and sexuality. He designed materials to help teachers approach the topic of sexual diversity with confidence, distinguishing sexual difference along lines of biological gender, sexual identity, sexual role, and desire orientation.
To push his new model forward, Lula created the “Educando para Diversidade” (Educating for Diversity) program, partnering with the Secretariat of Human Rights in São Paulo city to work with teachers from the hundreds of schools in the city’s network. In the first two years of the program, five thousand teachers participated in his trainings and workshops. The workshops visit each location twice, giving teachers the opportunity to experiment with classroom instruction and ask questions based on their experience.
Using a careful evaluation of his existing programs to perfect his materials and methods, Lula emerged from his first three years of work with a tight and coherent training system, ready to spread to new sites. With the support of the McArthur Foundation, he recently began a deeper program of training that serves two hundred teachers and more than a thousand students in the state school system. He has partnered with citizen sector organizations serving minorities and low-income communities to bring his methods of diversity education into their work, and he is partnering with the national Ministry of Education to spread his model to public schools throughout Brazil.
Lula plays a leadership role in a broad and diverse range of projects, connected by themes of tolerance and youth empowerment. He has used the momentum of his success with the “Educando para Diversidade” program to help found the Transgender Project, which aims to create a safe environment for transvestites in Escolas Municipais de Educação para Jovens e Adultos (Municipal Schools of Education for Youth and Adults). In the “Rompendo o Isolamento” (Breaking Isolation) project, which he began in 2002, he works to address the frustration and isolation of low-income young people living in peripheral areas of the city. The project’s psychologists and social workers meet weekly with youths aged around 25, in a space provided by the municipality in the region of Santo Amaro. In these meetings, approximately 40 young people discuss topics touching on self-esteem and citizenship. The conversations build social networks that serve the needs of isolated youth; these networks also provide a valuable resource for citizen sector organizations seeking to work in their neighborhoods. “Rompendo o Isolamento” has recently expanded to another peripheral zone of São Paulo, drawing on the successes of the first site.
Another of Lula’s projects is the “Marketing Social e Preservativo” (Prophylactics & Social Marketing) campaign, run in partnership with the John Snow company, which sells condoms in social gathering spots throughout São Paulo. Youths from peripheral zones become salespersons, educating youth about the value of condoms as they market their products. Lula also has a hand in the Network of Couples against AIDS, which discusses issues such as fidelity, promiscuity, and activism with homosexual couples, building a strong, public network of people in stable same-sex relationships. He lobbies for the development and enforcement of laws that combat homophobia in schools and public spaces, seeking to gain for his projects the full endorsement and protection of the government.
Lula showed an early interest in social action: at age 14, he sought and won admission to a leadership course intended for adults. Using the skills he gained in this course, he went on to become Vice-President, then President, of the student body in his high school. He began college as an aspiring engineer, but later grew interested in philosophy and explored becoming a priest. But as his awareness of his sexual orientation grew, and as he learned of the church’s intolerance of homosexuality, he stopped pursuing a career in the priesthood. Instead, he continued to pursue his interest and talent in political thought. In 1982, Lula, who already participated in the student council of the philosophy school, became one of the first affiliates of the Labor Party (PT), then the president of the party’s neighborhood chapter.
In 1984, Lula moved to Rio de Janeiro to begin a master’s program in anthropology. Living for the first time in a cosmopolitan city, he came out publicly as a gay man, and focused his anthropological research on the structure and dynamics of the gay community.
After teaching middle-school philosophy for a few years, then living for a time in London, Lula returned to Rio and started to participate in a gay rights group called Citizenship, Pride, Respect, Solidarity and Love. With time, Lula became more involved and began to help structure the group’s actions. He was elected President of the group in the late 1990s and took the reins of his first major project, a two-thousand person march against discrimination in Avenida Paulista, the financial center of São Paulo. This march, which will celebrate its eighth year in 2006, is now the largest in the world, drawing more than 1.5 million participants each year.