From Rio to Orlando, self-defense classes are catering to LGBTQ people

Ricardo Lima, 29, of Rio de Janeiro, never pictured himself joining any kind of martial arts class, as he worried he’d be entering a predominantly heterosexual environment overflowing with machismo. But after being told by a friend about Piranhas Team, a self-defense group founded by LGBTQ activists in Rio, Brazil’s second-largest city, he decided to try out its Krav Maga class.

“I could see right away that it was the perfect chance for me to learn how to defend myself and stop being scared of homophobic attacks all the time,” Lima told NBC News. “After being threatened many times in my life, since I was a teenager, in different places, I started to feel scared of going out and even walking toward men on the streets.”

Ricardo Lima.Courtesy of Ricardo Lima

The self-protection workshops offered by Piranhas Team provide LGBTQ people, like Lima, with practical techniques to defend themselves against physical attacks and enable vulnerable members of the community to feel more confident in defusing potentially dangerous situations.

While self-defense classes have been offered by Piranhas Team since 2016, the organizers witnessed a substantial increase in demand after self-declared “proud homophobe” Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018.

Halisson Paes, 42, one of the founders of Piranhas Team, attributes a large part of the group’s growth to the anti-gay rhetoric of Bolsonaro, who previously said: “I would be incapable of loving a gay son. I prefer that he die in an accident.”

“We used to have two classes with about 10 people in each, Paes said. “After the elections, this number increased to five classes, also with about 10 people in each.”

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