In Brazil, some LGBT activists have launched a campaign for the Catholic Church to declare as a queer saint an indigenous man called Tibira do Maranhão. This is totally unlikely – Tibira was executed by the colonials for the crime of “sodomy”, and was never a Christian. The story has been reported at Vice, and then picked up by the Catholic LGBT advocacy group, New Ways Ministry.
The campaign is aimed at a declaration of sainthood – but it’s more appropriate in my view, to see him as a queer martyr – martyred not for the church in defence of his faith, but by the church, on account of his sexuality. This is clearly recognised by the wording of the brochure shown above, which describes him as “santo martir” – ie, holy martyr.
The gruesome story is retold at Vice:
Missionaries accompanied the colonists, Sepahvand said, with the intention of teaching natives the proper Christian way of living. The goal was to “purify the earth of its evils” and “extinguish sin” among the native population—one of which was sodomy. “Indeed, the word ‘faggot’ comes from these times, a reference to the small pieces of wood that would be used to light the executing fires,” Sepahvand said.
In 1614, a Tupi man known as “Tibira” was sentenced to death for the crime of sodomy. He was to be executed in a public spectacle, to serve as a local object lesson: that same-sex sexuality was no longer going to be tolerated. And so Tibira was strapped in front of a cannon and blown to pieces. “But only after he had been baptized,” said Sepahvand. “In their apparent ‘benevolence,’ the missionaries wanted to make sure that upon death, Tibira would arrive in heaven and there could choose to join the male or the female group of angels singing God’s praise.” Hallelujah, indeed.
The campaign for Tibira claims that the death of Tibira is considered to be the “first documented case of homophobic murder in Latin America.” This is not correct. Twenty years earlier, there had been an even more gruesome execution for sodomy, when forty “two-spirited” men had been literally fed to a pack of dogs for their alleged crime of gender and sexual non-conformity.
The campaign for sainthood is doomed to failure, but it’s worth highlighting, for illustrating how misguided are the claims that it was Western missionaries and colonists that introduced homosexuality and gender variance to Africa, Asia and the Americas. For Catholics, it’s particularly important, to counter current tirades against “ideological neo-colonialism”. In fact, the ideological colonialism was the other way around.
- Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization
- Greenberg, : The Construction of Homosexuality
- Naphy, William: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality
- Len Evans: Gay Chronicles from the Beginning of time to the End of World War II