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Day 46: Rio de Janeiro

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Gay Pride takes over on Copacabana; the big march attracts all sorts.
Michael Palin - BrazilI'm really quite relieved when we reach the relative safety of the float for transvestites, or travestis as they call them, rather unfortunately, in Portuguese. It's hung with red fabric all the way round and adorned back and front with public health posters and slogans like 'Rio Sem Homophobia' ('Rio Without Homophobia'). The sides are decorated with a blizzard of red lips on a shiny background. A prow-like superstructure is built out over the driver's cab and gaggles of transsexuals stand at the rails waving at friends and showing off their breasts. As a sixty-eight-year-old British heterosexual in khaki shorts I feel, to quote an old Eric Idle line, like a lost lamb in an abattoir.

When at last we move off, our on-board disco kicks in. The whole truck starts to vibrate and the decibel level is unmerciful. Everyone is shouting but no one can hear a word. I push my way to the rail and, squeezing between a pair of transsexual twins, look out at the crowd below. Once we're on the move, albeit at the pace of an arthritic tortoise, the spirit of celebration becomes irresistible. Shyly at first, I exchange a few waves with people in sequinned G-strings and nuns in feather headdresses and motor-racing goggles. They could be men, they could be women. It doesn't seem to matter anymore. I just go with the flow, carried along Copacabana on a warm and wonderful tide of alternative sexuality. Below us, a rainbow banner has been unfurled. It must be nearly 500 metres long and it's borne, like a rippling river, on the ecstatic shoulders of the crowd.

It seems to me that what motivates this multitude is more than just a good day out. It is an affirmation of freedoms and liberties which we might take for granted, but which were unthinkable in Brazil a few years ago, and which are still bitterly resisted and resented. Last year in Rio alone 250 people were murdered because of their sexual preferences. Marjorie, with her unsteady wig and her too-tight cream dress, may at times cut an odd, even pathetic figure, but there's no denying that her courage and her commitment to the cause has made lives better for many people. The battle isn't yet won, which, I suspect, is what gives today's parade something beyond celebration. A purpose. A spectacular collective cry for tolerance.

After a few hours we've completed our filming and are about to leave the bus, when I take one last look out at the spectators, ten deep on the sidewalks of the Avenida Atlāntica. There at the front of the crowd, on the very edge of the packed pavement, is an old, frail, white-haired lady in a wheelchair, with her carer in a white coat beside her. And as our float goes by, full of men dressed as women and men who have had themselves turned into women, the lady in the wheelchair looks up and smiles and waves. And she keeps on waving.
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Gay Pride takes over on Copacabana; the big march attracts all sorts.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 46: Rio de Janeiro
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Rio de Janeiro
  • Book page no: 194

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