Brazil’s LGBT pop sensation: ‘I want to give them strength’

In a country where 343 LGBT people were killed in 2016, singer and openly gay drag queen Pabllo Vittar has become a symbol of resistance

Despite its permissive reputation and the wild, cross-dressing costumes seen at its street carnivals, Brazil is an increasingly dangerous country for LGBT people. According to the non-profit Bahia Gay Group 343 LGBT people were killed in 2016, compared to 260 in 2010.

Against this backdrop of prejudice, however, the countrys latest pop sensation is an openly-gay drag queen in a flowing platinum wig whose glossy pop videos have been watched hundreds of millions of times.

Pabllo Vittar, 22, has 4.9 million followers on her Instagram, enjoys the patronage of Anitta, one of Brazils most famous singers, and recently starred on the cover of celebrity magazine Contigo with the headline: Who is this phenomenon?

Besides her commercial success, Vittar has also become a symbol of resistance for those Brazilians dismayed by the rising influence of a self-appointed moral minority who have won a string of recent victories in the countrys culture wars.

People have really embraced my ideas, my work, my engagement, said Vittar in an interview at Rio de Janeiros YouTube studios, before the launch of her latest single, Corpo Sensual Sexy Body.

I like to be a girl, I like to be a boy. Photograph: PR
Dressed in skin-tight trousers and outsized fake eyelashes, Vittar said many fans share their problems with her. They tell me a lot about their daily struggle to go out on the street being gay, being drag, she said. I want to give them strength so they can continue being who they are.

She told Fantastico, a primetime TV show: I like to be a girl, I like to be a boy.

Such plain speaking has helped push Vittar onto the front lines of a string of skirmishes with Brazils new right, a loose alliance of free market advocates, those angry over political corruption, and the growing number of evangelical Christians.

When a Brazilian judge overturned a long-standing federal ban on discredited gay conversion therapy, Vittar tweeted we are not ill to over 600,000 followers and was applauded for her stance.

After she appeared alongside Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie at the Rock in Rio festival, actor Fabio Assuno welcomed her presence in a rising tide of what he called neo-fascism and totalitarianism.

You represent the possibility of truth in a sea of hypocrisy. Your public figure is the voice of many suffocated people, Assuno wrote in a Facebook post.

Vittar, 22, and her two sisters, Phamella (her twin) and Polyanna, 23 were raised by their mother Vernica, a nurse, in the poor, provincial states of Par and Maranho.

Born Phabullo da Silva, she always knew she was gay, and was bullied at school where her notebooks were ripped up and soup was thrown over her at lunchtime.

When you suffer prejudice, your self-esteem is low, you dont want to do anything, you dont want to leave the house, she said.

Pabllo had sung since she was a child and began making herself up at 16. At 18, she overcame her fears and went out in drag for the first time, to a Halloween party at an underground gay club in the city of Uberlndia, in the interior of Minas Gerais state.

I was really ugly, she said, collapsing into giggles. But I had a lot of fun.

Soon after, a TV producer saw a YouTube video of Vittar, who has a powerful and melodic voice, singing a Whitney Houston song and she was hired as one of two vocalists on a raucous, late night television show called Love and Sex.

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