What You Need to Know About Gender and Sexuality Education Under Brazilian Law

Under international law, the right to education includes the right to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) — age-appropriate learning materials that can help foster safe and informed practices to prevent gender-based violence, gender inequality, sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancies.

Gender and sexuality information is an essential component of CSE. The high rate of gender-based violence in Brazil, including violence against women, girls, and LGBTQIA+ individuals, is one indication of the urgent need for such education in schools.

Studies and education experts relate CSE to good results, including delayed onset of sexual activity and greater use of condoms and contraceptives, increased information on protection from sexual and gender-based violence, and positive attitudes toward gender equality and diversity.

“Before (being terrified), we would watch movies and have debates to talk about gender and sexuality in the classroom. But I became afraid this was their ambition. I do not have the same enthusiasm anymore. I am very discreet now.”

— Hellen Almeida (pseudonym), public high school teacher in Londrina, Paraná.

From 2014, the parliament at the federal, state, and municipal levels in Brazil have introduced 200 legislative terms to ban “sexual indoctrination” or “gender ideology” in Brazilian schools.

These terms oppose the previously liberal sexuality education and gender debate, and have been the theme of extreme political and social discussions in Brazilian society, with some bills at the end of the legislative process, many still pending, and others withdrawn.

Human Rights Watch Report

A man representing the banning of human rights. Credit: Dreamstime.com
A man representing the banning of human rights. Credit: Dreamstime.com

A report by Human Rights Watch was carried out in 2020 of 217 of these new bills and laws, and contained 56 interviews with teachers and education experts, as well as representatives of state departments of education, unions, and civil society NGOs.

The report targets legislative and political attempts to abolish holistic and comprehensive progress in education on gender and sexuality in primary and secondary public schools in Brazil. It investigates such attacks within the framework of the right to education, to knowledge, and to health, as well as the relevant right to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), which these laws breach.

Although Brazilian law and policy, both at the federal and state levels, have need of CSE instruction, most of the achievements by lawmakers and conservative groups named in this report aim to clearly ban the key image of “gender” and “sexual orientation” in all areas of school, not to mention as they relate to the rights of girls, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQIA+) citizens.

Further Details

The report exposes a campaign—at times normalized, at times promoted—to discredit and ban gender and sexuality education, approved by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, which has fully justified these bills, spreading fear of CSE for political effect, including during his 2018 presidential campaign.

Interviews with 32 teachers from 8 states in Brazil showed reluctance or fear among some teachers when it comes to talking about gender and sexuality during classes due to legislative and political resolution to defame such material, and at times persecution by elected officials and community members.

Laws in Brazil

Human Rights Watch has proved that at least 21 laws directly or indirectly banning gender and sexuality education continue in force in Brazil (1 state, 20 municipalities). Related bills are tabled in the federal, state, and municipal legislatures, with at least some legislatures continuing to recommend such bills, in spite of having already been proven illegal in crucial judicial victories. In 2020, the Supreme Court issued landmark controls striking down eight of these laws: seven municipal laws from the states of Goiás, Minas Gerais, Paraná, and Tocantins, and one state law from Alagoas.

The court understood the bans ignored the rights to equality, non-discrimination, and education, among others. In one decision, the court found that a law banning “gender ideology” “imposed silence, censorship, and […] obscuration.

The importance of the Supreme Court

In Brazil, the LGBTQIA+ community faces challenges in ensuring their rights. Credit: Human Rights Watch
In Brazil, the LGBTQIA+ community faces challenges in ensuring their rights. Credit: Human Rights Watch

The Supreme Court has served as a very significant check on such laws, including times when President Bolsonaro has progressively sought to intimidate the court and threatened and affronted Supreme Court justices.

Education professionals told Human Rights Watch that education authorities need to act urgently to raise awareness about these judgments to ensure teachers and parents know that they have the power to teach these subjects in accordance with the curriculum. At least four related cases are pending before the court in May 2022.

Education ban of Gender and Sexuality

Teachers face challenges when it comes to addressing gender issues in the classroom. Credit: https://www.catalyst.org/
Teachers face challenges when it comes to addressing gender issues in the classroom. Credit: https://www.catalyst.org/

Some Brazilian lawmakers are showing their opposition to gender and sexuality education by focusing on “early sexualization”- that students are too young to learn these things. 

For instance, during his 2018 election campaign, Bolsonaro railed contrary to “gender ideology” and has since continued to allege that teachers are “indoctrinating” students through gender and sexuality education, affirming that such material may encourage “early sexualization.”

In June 2021, the majority of city councilors in Divinópolis, Minas Gerais state, approved a project that bans offering public funds for events and services that “directly or indirectly promote the sexualization of children and teenagers.”

In December 2021, Caucaia, a city in Ceará state, approved a law banning discussion of “things related to sexuality” and “gender ideology” in municipal schools.

Religion in Brazilian politics

Minister of Women, Family, and Human Rights, Damares Alves, who stepped down in March 2022 to run for office, denounced the “indoctrination” of children and adolescents and created an official social media channel for conservative parents of students to criticize the government about teachers who make threats against “morals, religion, and family ethics.”

Her ministry has not publicly divulged a plan for the future of this social media channel, but it has changed the procedures of a national hotline that manages complaints about violations of human rights, “Dial 100”,  to start categorizing the promotion of “gender ideology” in schools as a human rights violation that can be reported.

Education in Danger

Teachers who highlight gender concerns are silenced and threatened. Credit: https://www.catalyst.org/research/lgbtq-workplace-issues/
Teachers who highlight gender concerns are silenced and threatened. Credit: https://www.catalyst.org/research/lgbtq-workplace-issues/

The striking down of bills by the supreme court has not intimidated Ministers of Education in the Bolsonaro administration from engaging in dangerous rhetoric, running the risk of fortifying such ideas in the federal educational institutions.

Bolsonaro’s third minister of education, Milton Ribeiro, who stepped down in March 2022 following accusations of corruption against him and his ministry, has condemned the “eroticization of children” and said gender and sexuality education is an “encouragement” for teens to have sex.

The teachers with whom Human Rights Watch spoke all demonstrated apprehension about teaching gender and sexuality in the classroom due to political efforts to discredit such material. 20 of the teachers experienced harassment for talking about gender and sexuality between 2016 and 2020 from elected officials and members of their community on social media and face to face.

Classroom dictatorship

Alan Rodrigues, a public high school teacher in Rio de Janeiro city, informed Human Rights Watch that he has received intimidation since 2014 for addressing research on gender and sexuality in the classroom. In early 2020, for instance, Alan coordinated a campaign against sexual violence with his students, and got an anonymous email: “Stop the indoctrination of students! We let it slide in 2019! Teachers like you should cease to exist! We are watching! You will get only one warning!”

Claudia Souza, an English teacher in Vinhedo, São Paulo, was accused by municipal government officials of “indoctrination” and “losses to students’ learning” after she asked her eighth-grade students to analyze feminism and gender-based violence to mark International Women’s Day in 2019. Claudia experienced two years of disciplinary proceedings and endured threats and posts via social media directed at discrediting her professionally.

Luana Souza, a public school science teacher from Rio de Janeiro, was accused by fellow teachers of being an “indoctrinator” after she tried to coordinate workshops with students around gender-based violence, feminism, and sexuality in 2018. The principal informed her not to discuss sexuality, gender identity, or abortion and prohibited her from using the word “gender” in the workshop description. The circumstances led to Souza being more careful about what projects she planned and, ultimately, she left the school.

Some teachers have been notified to provide statements to the police, public prosecutors’ offices, or departments of education.

Conservative politicians have silenced us

Bolsonaro has some harsh words for the Supreme Court about homosexual rights. Credit:https://www.opendemocracy.net/
Bolsonaro has some harsh words for the Supreme Court about homosexual rights. Credit:https://www.opendemocracy.net/

The popularity of such harassment in Brazil is not quantified, though teachers and education professionals say the laws and bills, the political rhetoric, and anecdotes of teacher provocation create a “chilling effect” on some teachers’ readiness to talk about gender and sexuality in class.

The Supreme Court recognized in a ruling striking down the Alagoas law in 2020 that a “chilling effect” may guide teachers “to stop dealing with important topics […] which, in turn, would suppress debate and intimidate students from addressing such subjects, comprising the freedom to learn and the development of critical thinking.”

School Without Party”, a new right wing political party established in 2004, has been a vocal group advocating to ban or inhibit education on gender and sexuality in legislatures around Brazil. It purports to promote “neutrality” in schools while prohibiting “indoctrination” and “gender conversion”.

Continued Political Issues

First propagated by the Vatican since the 1990s, the concept of “gender ideology” is also crucial to the discussion. In general, the proponents of “gender ideology” as a concept, refer to feminist and “homosexual” attempts to subvert “traditional” norms. The term is now used worldwide, sustained by opportunistic politicians and ideologues, such as  “School Without Party” who have exploited its lack of precise definition to attack a variety of issues, including same-sex marriage, feminism, reproductive rights, transgender people’s rights, comprehensive sexuality education, and even measures to combat domestic violence. 

Conservative organisations and elected public officials in Brazil have used “gender ideology” jargon to feed charges of “indoctrination” of children in schools with “political” and “non-neutral” gender and sexuality-related beliefs. These forces continue to weaponize education for political benefit among the conservative sector of the community by spreading the anxiety that children are at risk owing to such “dangerous” information.

Brazil against Gender and Sexuality Education

Brazil's religious conservatism bans education. Credit: The Guardian
Brazil’s religious conservatism bans education. Credit: The Guardian

The Human Rights Watch report concludes with some recommendations which, if implemented, could restore a safe teaching environment.

To defend the right to education and combat the chilling impact on CSE, legislatures at all levels of government in Brazil—federal, state, and municipal—should promptly withdraw legislation or repeal laws that restrict students’ rights to study about gender and sexuality.

Federal, state, and local officials should stop politicizing gender and sexuality education and using it as a wedge issue to consolidate support and criticize political opponents.

The Supreme Court’s decisions, and international human rights laws protecting the right to CSE should be implemented and adhered to by the Ministry of Education, state and local education departments.

Ultimately, the political mischaracterization and weaponization of such educational materials as “gender ideology” or “early sexualization” have the most direct and damaging influence on teachers and young people, who need the information the most.

All young people must have access to age-appropriate, affirming, and scientifically-based knowledge about gender and sexuality in order to live healthy and secure lives.


LGBTQIA+ councillors are constantly threatened

The first trans woman councilor in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro was threatened with death. Credit: Yahoo News
The first trans woman councilor in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro was threatened with death. Credit: Yahoo News

According to the press office of councillor Benny Brioli (PSOL-RJ), the first trans and black councilor in Niterói , the parliamentarian temporarily left the country after receiving multiple threats of death and violence in less than 6 months in office. This is not the first time Benny Brioli has faced a threat.

After receiving serious death threats, the federal deputy Jean Wyllys (PSol) announced in 2019 that he was stepping down from his mandate in the National Congress. He became been elected for a third term with 24,000 votes. The homosexual parliamentarian thanked his followers on social media and stated that staying alive “is also a form of resistance.” Since the murder of lesbian councilor Marielle Franco (PSol) in Rio de Janeiro in 2018, Jean had been escorted by police.  In addition to militia threats, the parliamentarian is the target of conservative groups who attack him on social media on a daily basis, and he is one of the most prominent targets of fake news on the internet. He has now left Brazil and has stated that he does not intend to return to the country.


Despite significant progress, Brazil still has a sizable number of religious politicians who constantly attack anything that contradicts their Christian beliefs. The election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil has further exacerbated the attacks on the rights of the LGBTQIA+ population. This rhetoric has also emboldened homophobic behavior and led to a rise in violence against minorities.

As a Brazilian and a homosexual, I understand what it’s like to live in a country that appears to be liberal but is crushed every day by fascism and, especially, religious conservatism.

Education about sexuality and gender is essential for an equal society. Public policies addressing this are vital for everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

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