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Brazilian native Vitor da Silva Oliveira — who prefers the pronoun they —  was 14 years old when they saw a TV show about transsexuals.

“I thought it was pretty, and I thought, ‘I wanna be like this. I wanna use makeup and dress up as a girl,’” da Silva Oliveira said remembering back to the first time that he wanted to ‘dress like a girl.’ “I didn’t tell anyone. I grabbed some of my friend’s clothes, dressed up and went out.”

People recognized da Silva Oliveira on the street and told their parents, who are evangelical Christians. The next day, their parents kicked them out of their house. Da Silva Oliveira went into the foster system but was returned to their parents.

“I was abused,” da Silva Oliveira said. “My dad made me eat food out of the toilet.”

Because da Silva Oliveira is a trans person, they said they were unemployable and became a prostitute.

In A Critical Analysis of Public Policies on Education and LGBT Rights in Brazil, Ilana Mountian dug into queer poverty and law in Brazil:

“Research has shown that many LGBT people stopped attending their school after suffering violence there. As a result, access to employment for LGBT people with low levels of schooling is severely limited,” Mountian’s report says. “In the case of transgenders and transsexual women, for example, these processes of exclusion persisted beyond their experience of violence and discrimination in school.”

Da Silva Oliveira moved into Casa Nem, a homeless shelter for the LGBT community, six days ago. In addition to housing, Casa Nem offers liberal arts classes and programs to rehabilitate sex workers, said coordinator Indianara Siqueira. This house — a refuge for queer people in Rio — opened its doors to visiting queers during the Olympics as wide as Christ the Redeemer’s inviting arms.

Pride House Rio, a division of Pride House International, set up camp in the Casa Nem on Aug. 6 to support the LGBT community and to foster open communication during the Olympic Games, said Rio Pride House co-organizer Yone Lindgren. Pride House International is a hospitality house for the LGBTQ community, similar to hospitality houses for competing nations, during the Olympic and Paralympic games. The first Pride House was established for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

“Modeled after a traditional Olympic hospitality house, Pride House is a venue welcoming LGBTIQ+ athletes, fans and their allies during large-scale international sporting events. Typically, they are welcoming places to view the competitions, experience the event with others, learn about LGBTIQ+ sport and homophobia in sport, and build a relationship with mainstream sport,” according to Pride House International.

Unlike the USA house, which is located on a busy street right across from Ipanema Beach, Pride House Rio is just one of many houses in Lapa, a bohemian neighborhood packed with old buildings and famous monuments.

“[The house] is a place of visibility for this population that’s inserted in this society, where the athletes can be who the are and show the world their sexuality for the society,” Lindgren said, “It’s important when the athletes come out as LGBT so then that society can realize how important this is and most of all how natural sexuality and gender identity is.”

The only thing distinguishing Casa Nem from its neighbors is a painting of God with cat ears playing a guitar and a Pride House banner hung from the windows. Food donations are accepted as a cover charge to visit Casa Nem during the Olympics. The house has expanded its regular services of continuing education courses for transgender persons to daily events open to the public including craft fairs, parties, debates, lectures, a nightly trans talk show, and yoga classes, said Lindgren.

While dialogue and visibility may be the goal of the Pride House Rio, de Silva Oliveira and França said they are dreaming for a world in which they’d be allowed to exist.

“[My real wish] was to be born as a straight man,” Oliveira said, “You know why? Because this is a really tough life.”

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(Photos // Facebook) 

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.