Insurgent Planning by the Trans Community of Rio de Janeiro
By Christian Flores
Casa Nem in Rio de Janeiro is a shelter for trans and other LGBTQ+ folks that has operated since 2016. They are a squatting community that has occupied abandoned buildings throughout Rio, remaining united even after being evicted four times. In early 2021, when they were about to be forcefully evicted from their most recent shelter, the founder Indianara Siqueira and other members of Casa Nem staged a protest. Transgender activists from throughout the country came to stand in solidarity with them, including the Governor of Rio de Janeiro’s son, Erick Witzel. Using the opportunity presented by the publicity, Siqueira negotiated a deal with the local government on live television. Because of the pressure from organizers, the local government agreed to have the shelter relocated to an abandoned building and guaranteed they could stay there for the next five years.
Casa Nem’s resistance against displacement came against two historical backdrops: the pandemic that ravaged Brazil and a national trans rights movement that has been fighting for space in Brazil’s public sphere. While Brazil has one of the most efficient vaccination infrastructures in the world, the federal government lagged far behind most countries in the region in purchasing COVID-19 vaccines (BBC). Casa Nem had been sheltering 60 residents at the time of the eviction and had an entire floor dedicated to COVID isolation. Eviction would throw many of those queer people onto the streets or back to hostile families and would increase their exposure to the virus.
Furthermore, Brazil is known for its paradoxical attitude towards LGBTQ+ rights: while it has some of the most progressive LGBTQ+ inclusion laws in the hemisphere, it remains the #1 country in terms of violence against Trans people. Trans youth often experience homelessness due to domestic violence, and discriminatory housing and hiring practices make it impossible for many Trans people to get a job to pay the rent. A lack of LGBTQ+ inclusive housing assistance programs or a social safety net for Trans people means they often have to resort to the streets, or to informal arrangements. Squats that serve as Trans shelters have thus become a trans political strategy throughout Brazil.
Asides from providing a haven to LGBTQ+ youth, these centers also function as centers for political activism. Siqueira started Casa Nem in 2016, the same year she successfully won a campaign to become an alternate on the Rio de Janeiro City Council representing the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). Siqueira then ran for Federal Deputy in 2018 and continued to use her position in electoral politics and powerful alliances to bring attention to Casa Nem. During the 2018 election, she recorded a documentary of the PSOL conflict and the subsequent eviction, which brought both national and international attention to the trans rights movement in Brazil. By the time the Rio de Janeiro police were about to evict them yet again in 2021, Siqueira had already captivated an international audience and expanded her movement.
Casa Nem presents a case study in insurgent planning, a concept defined by Faranak Miraftab as “indispensable to counter-hegemonic planning practices” (Miraftab, 2009, p. 32). Siqueira and the residents of Casa Nem challenged the neoliberal facade of inclusion by forming a national resistance movement and using the media to televise a potentially violent confrontation. As Miraftab states (p. 46), insurgent planning “transgresses national boundaries by building transnational solidarities of marginalized people.” Casa Nem became a symbol for the international trans struggle by using documentary filmmaking and the media to broadcast their struggle to the world. In doing so, the members of Casa Nem disrupted the cycle of forceful evictions and legitimated their existence in the city, using the state’s own neoliberal tools to create a new space for themselves.
Furthermore, Indianara Siqueira and the members of Casa Nem provide a case study in queer placemaking. As Xavier Livermon explains, queer placemaking is constantly “in process, and open to contingency, revealing the importance of… the usability of space and performance” (Livermon, 2014, p.518-519). Having to operate within “black heteronormative spaces,” Livermon argues that black queer people in Soweto negotiate the use of space through queer performance. This performance pushes the bounds and limits of what is acceptable in normative spaces, enabling the creation of queer space.
Similarly, Casa Nem pushes the bounds by politicizing and exposing trans bodies in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Often appearing bare chested at political protests, the members of Casa Nem advocate and protect all members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially those most marginalized by society’s norms, which includes black trans women, sex workers, and those considered “society’s freaks.” The parties hosted at Casa Nem proudly announce the existence of an LGBTQ+ safe space, open for all. By creating a safer space for all in Rio de Janeiro, Casa Nem has become a strong political presence in the LGBTQ+ national and transnational movement, making it possible to draw solidarity from near and far in their moment of need, illustrating the empowering potentials of insurgent planning practices.
Casa Nem circa 2016. See source here: Gay Blog Brazil
Indianara Siqueira. See source here: Agencia Brasil – EBC
Members of Casa Nem and others protesting the forced eviction from their Copacabana residence. See source here: ISTOE Independente