President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil withdrew from a New York City awards ceremony after the host venue and its sponsors faced intense pressure, most notably from an online petition launched by out gay West Side State Senator Brad Hoylman that yielded more than 65,000 signatures. Hoylman’s petition demanded that plans for the event be scrapped due to the South American leader’s history of homophobia, racism, and xenophobia.
“We took on the homophobic president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro and we won,” Holyman said on Twitter on May 3 shortly after it was revealed that Bolsonaro canceled his trip to New York. “The only award that Jair Bolsonaro deserves is Bigot of the Year. We ran him out of town.”
Yet prior to Bolsonaro’s retreat, numerous US-based corporations slated to sponsor the event ignored growing concerns voiced by the community and stood by Brazil’s leader until the end, exposing their collective willingness to prioritize international business interests over human rights.
Bolsonaro was initially scheduled to receive the Person of the Year Award from the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce at the American Museum of Natural History before public pressure forced the museum to ditch the event. It was subsequently moved to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and was being propped up by CitiBank, First Data, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Forbes’ licensee in Brazil, and other corporations.
Hours before Bolsonaro canceled, none of those companies except for Forbes responded to phone calls and emails for this story regarding whether they would pull their sponsorships. Some other companies, such as Bain & Co. and Delta Air Lines, had earlier scrapped their plans to sponsor the event. A spokesperson for Forbes returned a phone call only to say that the company had nothing to do with the event because its licensee in Brazil operates independently from the main Forbes brand.
Hoylman, who represents the district where the event was scheduled, gathered tens of thousands of signatures in a matter of days calling on the host venue to cancel the event. He also turned up the heat on sponsors when he issued a public statement on April 30 demanding that they stop supporting Brazil’s bigoted leader.
“As the only openly LGBTQ member of the State Senate, this is personal for me — and it is especially hurtful that we are fighting against an honor for a notorious homophobe as we approach the 50th anniversary of Stonewall,” Hoylman said. “It’s time for these businesses to decide: do they truly stand for LGBTQ New Yorkers, or are they willing to trade equality for one night of business?”
Host Hotels (which owns the New York Marriott Marquis), Marriott International, and many of the event’s sponsors — including CitiBank, First Data, HSBC, and JP Morgan Chase — boast perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, meaning they are viewed as leaders in LGBTQ acceptance in the corporate world.
Those reputations could be jeopardized after the organizations opted not to distance themselves from the event.
“It’s imperative that the companies and organizations associated with this event understand the egregious anti-LGBTQ record and rhetoric of the Brazilian President and stand by LGBTQ people in Brazil and everywhere by withdrawing their support,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a written statement prior to Bolsonaro’s withdrawal. “His brand of anti-LGBTQ activism is actively harming LGBTQ Brazilians and companies that host or participate in this celebration of him need to take a stand.”
Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1, has already left a long trial of anti-LGBTQ footprints. Most recently, he warned his nation against becoming “known as a gay tourism paradise” just weeks after standing next to President Donald Trump at the White House and declaring that the US and Brazil “stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties in respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our creator against the gender ideology or politically correct attitudes and against fake news.”
Not long before that, he posted an NSFW video of gay men partying during Carnival festivities and proceeded to mock them in a tweet, saying, “I don’t feel comfortable showing it, but we have to expose the truth to the population knowing and always taking their priorities.”
Bolsonaro has also instilled such a culture of intolerance in Brazil’s government that the nation’s only out gay congressmember, Jean Wyllys, was left with no choice but to flee the country due to numerous threats since Bolsonaro rose to prominence with his brand of far-right politics. Wyllys was later replaced by another out gay politician, David Miranda, husband of journalist Glenn Greenwald.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also been scheduled to be honored at the Marriott event.