Interview: Patrícia Lélis, Brazilian radical feminist

It is not a crime to defend women's rights


Patrícia Lélis is a Brazilian radical feminist and former congressional journalist who has been repeatedly harassed and threatened with death for speaking about issues that impact women and for criticizing the sex industry. In 2016, Lélis came forward with allegations of rape against Brazilian pastor and politician Marco Feliciano, an experience which caused her to challenge her own political views and led her to become a feminist activist. After making her allegations public, Lélis was abducted by supporters of Feliciano and held in a hotel in São Paulo for three days before being discovered by the police. For speaking out about the abuse she endured, she continues to be targeted by politicians on the right and supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro, including being subjected to a smear campaign that falsely accuses her of having a psychological condition.

Lélis then aligned herself politically with the leftist Worker’s Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT), believing that she would be able to campaign for women’s rights from within the party. However, she quickly discovered that PT was also hostile to women’s rights and prioritized males who claim a transgender identity over the rights of women. Meetings which were meant to be focused on promoting women’s rights instead centered gender ideology, and women who attended were discouraged from speaking about issues such as sex trafficking and abortion.

At the end of 2018, Lélis exposed a sex trafficking ring operating within the Brazilian National Congress after she was propositioned by a woman named Janaina de Toledo who recruits women for the sexual use of male politicians. Since that time, Lélis explains that she has been stalked by, and received death threats from, Janaina de Toledo, who went so far as to call the police and file a false report against her. In Brazil, as in many countries around the world, transactivists vocally advocate in favor of sex trafficking, and according to Lélis, PT members and affiliates such as de Toledo are involved with the prostitution industry.

Lélis is currently involved in a series of lawsuits, having been targeted by a trans-identified males in Brazil who accused her of ‘misgendering’ them. One incident involved Indianara Siqueira, a trans-identified male who was expelled from the Socialism and Liberty Party, or PSOL, in 2019 amidst accusations that he staged a “coup,” taking over property used by a non-profit organization and appropriating it for the sexual exploitation of children. Siqueira renamed the property Casa Nem, and converted it into what he called a “trans woman house,” filling the building with “transsexuals” involved in street prostitution. According to the PSOL Ethics Committee, an adolescent who resided at Casa Nem filed a legal complaint claiming to have been subjected to and have witnessed the prostitution of children on the premises. Lélis referred to Siqueira using male pronouns, and was subjected to a legal complaint for doing so.

On July 6, Lélis shared to her Instagram account a viral video depicting a woman at Los Angeles’ Wi Spa confronting staff about the presence of a naked man in the women’s section of the spa. Lélis wrote the following caption beneath the video:

“In LA, a man who identifies himself as transgender who was in the WI SPA to use the women's bathroom that also had other women in it took off his pants and showed his penis to the women and teenagers in the bathroom.

To explain further: The man who identifies as transgender went to the women’s room, took care of his needs in a private stall, left the stall and in the lavatory area, took off his pants and showed his penis to three other women who were in the bathroom.

When questioning the SPA, the clients had the following response: ‘He has the right to use the women's bathroom since he identifies himself as a woman.’ The situation generated revolt and confusion between the trans-identified man and the other women who were in the bathroom which later became a police case and also a reason for protests.

So, what is your opinion? Would you mind going to the ladies room and a trans-identified man takes off his pants and starts showing off his penis? Would you feel threatened?”

In an interview with Julian Vigo for Savage Minds, Lélis explains that she began receiving death threats minutes after posting the video, and as a result, decided to record a follow-up video wherein she asserts “that ‘being a woman is not a feeling’ and that people who play with the issue of gender are silencing women.” 

After Lélis’ post was heavily criticized, she learned that her employers were flooded with thousands of emails asking for her to be fired. Speaking with Andreia Nobre for 4W.Pub, Lélis said she had never experienced such misogyny.

“I witnessed a different kind of violence,” she told 4W.Pub. “I had never received so many aggressive messages, so many death threats and threats of rape, not even when I denounced Brazilian pastor and congressman Marco Feliciano for rape. A little over a month ago a man also affiliated with the same party publicly threatened me with death on his facebook, for all to see. The party did not think it was something serious, because right after this man deleted the post, there was no repudiation note for the death threat I received, there was nothing. I had to hire lawyers and handle the case in the criminal sphere, but the party did nothing.

“The party wanted me to make a note apologizing for saying that being a woman is not a feeling, it shocked me. We've reached a point where I can't say women menstruate, I have to say ‘people who menstruate’ so that no one is offended, but no one cares about a woman's erasure when we're forced to erase our biology and body. As a woman, I want to have my right to talk about myself and mine, I want to be able to talk about the oppression we are going through and suffering from the queer group that every day has silenced our existence,” Lélis said.

You can support Patrícia Lélis by following her on Twitter and on Instagram.


Brazilian feminists have written the following manifesto regarding the attacks on women’s rights and censorship of those who criticize gender ideology.

You can sign the manifesto here.

MANIFESTO REPUDIATING THE SYSTEMIC SILENCING OF WOMEN BY BRAZILIAN LEFT-WING PARTIES 

We, women and organizations on the Left, affiliated with parties or not, present through this Manifesto our disavowal at the recurrent practices of silencing women, attacking our constitutional right to freedom of expression and to fight for our rights.

From the Right, we didn’t expect any different. However, from people and organizations on the Left, we expected another stance. On July 8th, 2021, the Workers' Party (PT) issued a “repudiation note” to one of its affiliates, the journalist Patrícia Lélis, for alleged “transphobia”, with the warning that it will “apply statutory rules to her case”. Patrícia had spoken on her social media about the Wi Spa case, in Los Angeles, in which a male individual, declaring himself a woman at the reception, gained access to the women's only area and undressed, thus exposing his male genitals to the women and girls present. The case has had wide repercussions on social media and news outlets.

This episode illustrates the systemic silencing of women undertaken by Left-wing parties (as also undertaken by other organizations, social movements and the media). It also shows that parties use double standards to deal with issues involving their politicians or affiliates. Below are four examples that substantiate this view: 

1. In the same week that the PT issued a repudiation note on its website against Lélis, Niterói councilwoman Verônica Lima (PT), a black and lesbian activist, was verbally abused by councilor Paulo Eduardo Gomes (PSOL), who hurled at her, “You want to be a man? Then I'll treat you like a man!” The same PT did not demand punishment for the councilor, limiting itself to a note of support to its councilwoman, by the Women's Secretariat. Likewise, the PSOL, also a Left-wing party, only issued a note by its Local Directory informing that its politician made a “self-criticism” and that he “recanted”. 

2. On September 14th, 2020, Lana de Holanda, PSOL trans activist who worked in the office of parliamentarians Marielle Franco, Mônica Francisco and now Mônica Benício, stated the following about the accusations of “transphobia” directed at writer JK Rowling: “Sorry, I'm not going to talk about JK Rowling. I prefer to spend my time washing my hair. I just hope the transgenders in England will cut her up, kill her. After all, aren't we so violent, according to her book? Let's be really violent, then”.

After pressure from women, Lana simply deleted her tweet. There was no punishment; in fact, on November 9th of the same year, Lana once again attacked women who spoke out against rape culture and in a Radical Feminist act: “I just saw the banners of radical feminists in yesterday's act in São Paulo. The so-called 'Women at War' are nothing but a bunch of racist and transphobic whites, who continue to create and reinforce categories of human beings. They are the scum of feminism. Shameful. (...) It's a good thing for them that the pandemic allows them to wear masks and cover their shameful faces.” No action was taken.

3. Elected co-deputy Raquel Marques (REDE-SP) was expelled from the Collective Mandate to which she was legitimately elected and whose official representative is Mônica Seixas (PSOL-SP). The reason: she wrote on her social media that “I wish that one day issues surrounding childhood and adolescence rights would cause the Left the same indignation that transphobia causes”; the sentence was considered an “act of transphobia” and she was given to chance to defend herself prior from being expelled. After strong pressure, especially from the motherhood militants that elected the Mandate, the co-deputy was reinstated. 

4. Although the PT was quick to publicly accuse a woman of “transphobia”, it affiliated and launched the candidacy for councilor of Indianare Siqueira, a trans activist that was convicted and served prison time for proxenetism [pimping] in France. Indianare was previously affiliated to PSOL, whose expulsion report of its former member mentions serious accusations, including threats to a female affiliate of the PSOL. 

Despite the consequences that a public accusation of "transphobia" entails for the image, reputation, mental health and physical safety of the accused women, it should be noted that neither the PT nor the PSOL explained what exactly constituted “hate” or “phobia” in the public statements of the two aforementioned women. 

It is important to point out that women have struggled for many years to create exclusive spaces and continue to do so. The first women's bathroom in the Brazilian Senate, for example, dates only back to 2016! Furthermore, forcing a woman to view someone else's nudity is a crime and indicates dangerous behavior that can evolve into more serious crimes, as demonstrated by the murder of Sarah Everard, in the United Kingdom, by a man previously denounced for the conduct known, in the UK, as “indecent exposure”, a complaint ignored by the local police. Days before Sarah's kidnapping, rape and murder, the perpetrator had once again exposed himself to a cafeteria worker. 

Issues related to sex and gender are subject to intense theoretical and legal debates. They are far from pacified and the introduction of the recognition of the “right to gender identity” in its current form has had undeniable impact on the sex class of girls and women, whether in the United States (where the Wi Spa case took place), in Brazil or at a world event like the Olympics. The Left needs to recognize this with honesty, listening to all sides on the issue and looking for solutions that won’t make women even more vulnerable. 

By accepting the idea that to exercise our freedom of expression or to fight for our rights is a crime, an act of “transphobia”, “hate speech”, or a “personal opinion”, the Left legitimizes the growth of violence against us. For instance, the women who participated in a peaceful demonstration at the Wi Spa were victims of aggression from activists who legitimized their actions by the notion that the women were “transphobic”. Activists, feminist organizations and social movement cadres are being accused of “conservatism” and “fascism”, something incompatible with their trajectories. 

It’s important to remember that the Brazilian Constitution (1988) guarantees every citizen the right to free expression of thought (art. 5) and, with regard to journalism, prohibits any and all censorship of a political, ideological or artistic nature (art. 220). Every woman has the right to publicly express herself, based on her experiences, worldview or theoretical background, regardless of her ideology, religion or political orientation. In practice, however, women are still prevented from fully exercising such rights, being the only group the Left currently doesn’t recognize the right to speak about material experiences or to produce epistemology. 

The Left is failing not only its female affiliates and voters, but also women in general, half the country's population and 52.6% of the electorate. The Left is also failing in its commitment to a democratic freedom of expression and information, which guarantees every individual both the right to speak up and to seek and receive ideas and information of all kinds. By embracing a single narrative about “gender” and silencing other views that exist within their own field of action and voters, parties impoverish the debate on relevant national issues: only from a wide range of ideas, data and opinions free from censorship, will it be possible to arrive at the best strategy for solving the conflicts inherent in a democratic society. No authoritarianism is healthy and a real democracy is a system that provides spaces for debate and the resolution of conflicts and collisions of rights. 

Considering all of the above and the urgency of the fight against authoritarianism, we urge Left-wing parties to change their stance when it comes to women. We urge them, in the face of possible ideological conflicts, to always ensure prior listening and honest debate and to weigh the impact of their actions. We specially urge them never to silence one part of the debate, whatever it might be - especially not when it comes to women's voices, historically silenced.