Country has seen nearly 1,600 people die in hate-motivated attacks in 4½ years.
RIO DE JANEIRO — The assailant struck as Gabriel Figueira Lima, 21, stood on a street two weeks ago in a city in the Amazon, plunging a knife into his neck and speeding off on the back of a motorcycle, leaving him to die.
A few days earlier, in the coastal state of Bahia, two beloved teachers, Edivaldo Silva de Oliveira and Jeovan Bandeira, were killed as well, their charred remains found in the trunk of a burning car.
Late last month, it was Wellington Júlio de Castro Mendonça, a shy, 24-year-old retail clerk, who was bludgeoned and stoned to death near a highway in a city northwest of Rio.
In a nation seemingly inured to crime, the brutal killings stood out: The victims were not robbed, the police have yet to identify any suspects, and all of the dead were either gay or transgender.
While Americans have fiercely debated how to respond to the massacre last month at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Brazilians have been confronting their own epidemic of antigay violence — one that, by some counts, has earned Brazil the ignominious ranking of the world’s deadliest place for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
Nearly 1,600 people have died in hate-motivated attacks in the past 41⁄2 years, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia, which tracks the deaths through news articles. By its tally, a gay or transgender person is killed almost every day in this nation of 200 million.
“And these numbers represent only the tip of the iceberg of violence and bloodshed,” said Eduardo Michels, the group’s data manager, adding that the Brazilian police often omit antigay animus when compiling homicide reports.
Antonio Kvalo, 34, a Web designer, created temlocal.com.bra, where Brazilians can log instances of antigay violence. He said he had been motivated in part by his own experience, in 2008, when two men tackled him on a street in Rio and kicked him dozens of times. When the police arrived, “they made me feel like a criminal,” Kvalo said.
Such incidents can be hard to square with Brazil’s storied image as a tolerant, open society — a nation that seemingly nurtures freewheeling expressions of sexuality during Carnival and holds the world’s biggest gay pride parade in the city of São Paulo.
Brazil’s near-mythic reputation for tolerance is not without justification. In the nearly three decades since democracy replaced military dictatorship, the Brazilian government has introduced numerous laws and policies aimed at improving the lives of sexual minorities. In 1996, it was among the first to offer free antiretroviral drugs to people with HIV. In 2003, Brazil became the first country in Latin America to recognize same-sex unions for immigration purposes, and it was among the earliest to allow gay couples to adopt children.
In 2013, the Brazilian judiciary effectively legalized same-sex marriage.
Some experts suggest that liberal government policies may have gotten too far ahead of traditional social mores. The antigay violence, they contend, can be traced to Brazil’s culture of machismo and a brand of evangelical Christianity, exported from the United States, that is outspoken in its opposition to homosexuality.
Antonio Kvalo built a website for Brazilians to report incidents of antigay violence after being beaten himself, in Rio de Janeiro. Kvalo recalls being further abused by police after his assault.