‘We feel welcome now’: Brazilians of all stripes hail Lula as he takes office

Brazilian drag queen Salete Campari came dressed as Marilyn Monroe to toast her country’s new era.

“I feel incredibly lucky,” said the activist and performer as she posed for selfies in front of Brazil’s Presidential Palace while awaiting the arrival of the country’s new President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

“Now Brazil’s LGBTQIA+ community can feel free because we have a president who respects diversity. It is so important. Everyone is welcome now,” Campari said.

“No one was welcome under that man,” she added of Lula’s proudly biased predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, whose political death has brought a long-awaited moment of redemption for the country’s marginalized minorities, as well as its black majority.

During Bolsonaro’s four-year rule, the presidential palace was occupied by a predominantly white, male gathering of politicians and military officials, many of whom were unabashed about their disregard for indigenous and traditional black communities, favela dwellers and members of Brazil’s civil rights movement.

“The minority must bow to the majority,” Bolsonaro once said.

But when Lula, 77, arrived to take office on Sunday, the stunning marble ramp into the palace was surrounded by a mix of citizens representing one of the most socially and racially diverse nations in the world.

Lula supporters display a Brazilian flag during the presidential inauguration ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia.Lula supporters display a Brazilian flag during the presidential inauguration ceremony in Brasilia. Photo: Myke Sena/Getty Images

“I saw trans men and women, transvestites, drag queens, disabled people … there were pastors, priests and Afro-Brazilian religious leaders,” said black favela activist Rene Silva, who was among the crowd.

“I’ve seen the Brazil I know. We could see ourselves,” Silva added. “I felt at home.”

Bolsonaro boycotted the ceremony after flying to the US on the eve of the inauguration, allowing Lula to use the symbolic presentation of the presidential sash to underscore his desire to build an inclusive and tolerant nation.

Many onlookers, including Silva, cried as the new president walked up the ramp flanked by eight representatives of Brazilian diversity and struggle, including revered indigenous leader Raoni Metuktire, a disabled influencer and a metalworker. The sash was presented to Lula by black garbage collector and activist Aline Sousa.

“This is a historic moment,” said Douglas Belchior, a civil rights activist with the Black Coalition for Rights group who was there.

Lula has brought similar diversity to his new government to bring all of Brazil’s 215 million people back into the fold after beautifying minorities from Bolsonaro’s tumultuous era.

“I will rule for all, looking forward to our bright future together rather than to a rear-view mirror of division and intolerance,” Lula said to tens of thousands of supporters who gathered to listen.

One of Brazil’s most famous black intellectuals, Silvio Almeida, will head Lula’s human rights ministry, replacing radical evangelical preacher Damares Alves.

Favela-born human rights activist Anielle Franco will lead the Ministry of Racial Equality. And indigenous activist and politician Sônia Guajajara will lead Brazil’s first-ever ministry for indigenous peoples.

On the eve of Lula’s inauguration, Guajajara told his supporters that Brazil is entering a new era where “the resistance” will take over the corridors of power.

“We are here today because we have never been afraid to fight. We never gave up,” said Guajajara to loud cheers. “We are here to say that there will never be a Brazil without us again.”