Six out of 11 judges of Brazil’s Supreme Court have voted that discrimination against gays and transgender people equivalent to racism and therefore a crime punishable by law.
The decision will give the community, which suffers constant attacks, real protection, activists say.
At least 141 LGBT people have been killed in Brazil this year, according to rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia.
“Homophobic crimes are as alarming as physical violence,” Supreme Court Vice-President Luiz Fux said on his vote, citing “epidemic levels of homophobic violence”.
For almost 20 years there have been efforts to make homophobia a crime in Brazil, but legislation on the matter has faced resistance among conservative and religious groups in Congress.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who assumed office on Jan. 1, has a history of offensive comments about gays, blacks and other minorities, openly acknowledging he is a homophobe. He has said he would rather have a dead son than a gay son.
The decision at the Supreme Court means that offences are to be punished under the country’s racism law until Congress approves specific legislation to protect LGBT people,
Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years.