BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — A Brazilian general’s comment that gay soldiers should not be allowed to command troops sparked fierce criticism from gay rights groups and a national lawyers’ organization that champions human rights.
The uproar comes at the same time the United States is debating whether to repeal a ban on gays serving openly in the military.
Gen. Raymundo Nonato told a Senate commission considering his appointment to head Brazil’s top military court that while gay soldiers won’t be ousted if they don’t reveal their homosexuality, a gay soldier in a command position “will not be obeyed by his subordinates in combat situations.”
The Senate commission, which had asked Nonato for his views on gays, unanimously approved his appointment.
Sen. Eduardo Suplicy of the ruling Workers’ Party voted in favor of Nonato, but said later that he would ask the full Senate to suspend a confirmation vote until the general can be called back for more questioning.
Brazilian gay-rights organizations and the Brazilian Bar Association said Nonato’s comments made him unfit for the job as military court chief.
“It’s sad that this type of discrimination still exists in the armed forces,” said the bar association’s president, Ophir Cavalcante. “The defense of the country must be performed by men and women who are prepared and trained, independently of each person’s sexual orientation.”
The issue of gays in Brazil’s military last generated controversy in 2008, when military justice officials ordered the arrest of openly gay Sgt. Fernando de Figueiredo. Officials said the arrest was due to disciplinary infractions, but Figueiredo said he was targeted because of his sexual orientation. He was disciplined and then returned to his position.
Brazil is generally more tolerant of homosexuality than other Latin American countries, with transvestites featured prominently in carnival and other celebrations, but discrimination still exists.
Sao Paulo holds the planet’s largest gay parade every year, with millions participating.