After five days of the intense day-and-night party that takes over Brazil during Carnival, drag queen Pabllo Vittar is exhausted. The 23-year-old phenomenon, who kicked the internet into overdrive last month after making out with Diplo in her music video for “Então Vai,” can finally take off her high heels, put her wigs away and reflect on her accomplishments: The country with the worst rates of anti-LGBTQ violence in the world has chosen her, a man, as its pop queen.
Homophobia remains one of Brazil's most serious problems. Despite its gay-friendly image (think São Paulo’s Pride Parade, the world’s largest, or Rio de Janeiro’s gay beach), Brazil’s “homophobic violence has hit crisis levels, and it’s getting worse,” Amnesty International’s Jandira Queiroz told The New York Times in 2016. A recent analysis by Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB), Brazil’s oldest LGBT rights organization, estimates that violent deaths of LGBTQ Brazilians have hit an all-time high in 2017: at least 387 people were killed, an increase of 30 percent from the previous year. As a comparison, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported 52 deaths in the U.S. during the same time.
But a collective of drag queens -- with Vittar at the forefront -- is helping to change Brazil’s acceptance of the LGBTQ community, using music and performance as their means. “I’m very happy that I have this space and an opportunity to lend my voice to the LGBTQ cause, and to represent my sisters,” says Vittar, whose videos for "Corpo Sensual" and "K.O." have collectively earned more than 275 million YouTube views. (A video for “Sua Cara,” a song she recorded with Diplo’s Major Lazer and Brazilian bombshell Anitta, became the fastest video to reach one million likes on YouTube -- in less than six hours.) “Knowing that other people will grow, by having more examples, and more people that can inspire them is wonderful,” she adds.