When Brazilian student and LGBT community member Caio Vendraminia and I walked up to Pride House, I was a little bit nervous. I had been there once, and we were turned away because of scheduling changes.
Not to mention that the area is culture shock for me: the old buildings covered in graffiti, stone-paved streets filled with vendors, little men with plastic food boxes strapped to their heads — all are a far cry from the cornfield-laden town from which I hail.
The first time I went there, I thought we were in the wrong place. The only thing that said otherwise was a banner hanging from the windows.
We walked into the open garage door anyway. We were greeted by a very tall man, who spoke to Caio in Portuguese. My Portuguese knowledge is limited to “bathrooms,” “excuse me” and “they write letters” (super useful, thanks language learning apps), so I just stood there and hoped.
One of the walls was decorated in posters full of words that I could kind of understand: biphobia, transphobia, homophobia. The entrance to the next room was decorated with streamers that kept blowing from the force of a huge fan.
We were led, by our tall friend, past the foyer into the next room. The room was mostly empty with concrete floors. A small cut-out housed a DJ booth with huge speakers. The walls were floor-to-ceiling papered with rainbows, hearts, tie-dye, LGBT terms, and in the center, an article on LGBT athletes titled “Heroes.”
Caio approached a group of strangers and asked if I could talk to them. He said, “She’s a member of the LGBT community. She identifies as two-spirit.”
I’m new to talking about my gender identity. I’ve learned that my gender identity is very fluid and changes day to day.
“That’s OK. I woke up today [identifying] as a unicorn,” Rio Pride House co-organizer Yone Lindgren said in Portugese.
I fed Caio questions: How did Pride House Rio begin (it’s a chapter of Pride House International, which had a presence at other Olympic Games)? What are you trying to accomplish regarding equal rights? And so forth. He translated briefly, then I would give him another question.
Yone and two other co-organizers, Marcelle Esteves and Michele Seixas, stood in front of me and spoke. I didn’t understand their words, but I know what they meant.
“Tell me about what happens to transgendered people in Brazil. Tell me about the LGBT homeless population,” I told Caio.
Yone spoke; her voice rang; she rocked on her feet and clapped her hands. I knew everything she was saying was important, that she was speaking for all of those who cannot speak, for those who spoke and were killed for doing so.
The exchange only lasted 30 minutes, but when we were done, I knew I had just done a very important and powerful interview. Chills ran down the backs of my arms.
I asked if I could take their photo. They laughed when I said, “1, 2, 3, cheese!” Then, we hugged.
I know Brazilians kiss on the cheek as greeting — something I’m not used to as an American, but we kissed and we hugged. Our hug was a true hug; we embraced the intimacy, rubbed each other’s backs with solidarity, giving each other the respect and support we both needed in that moment.
This was the kind of hug where two people share their fire and both grow stronger, the kind of hug best friends give.
I couldn’t understand a word, but one thing was loud and clear: Where the LGBT community is, love comes with it, always.
Laura Arwood is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.