SÃO PAULO, Brazil – A theatrical performance called “The Coronation of Our Lady of the Transvestites” was canceled on July 19 in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte after the local archdiocese released a statement defining it as “a prejudiced and criminal action of disrespect of the Catholic Christian faith.” The performance had been scheduled for the following day in a cultural festival organized by the city government but was suspended by the mayor.

The statement, released under the authority of Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, who was elected president of the National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil in May, said the Church protested the scheduled performance “with indignation,” adding the play was “prejudiced” and “criminal.”

Under Brazilian law, “publicly vilifying” religious objects or worship is a crime punishable by up to a year in jail.

“We demand and hope that the competent authorities and the organizers suspend the event, given that it is an indisputable fomentation to prejudice and discrimination and a disrespect of the values of the Catholic Christian faith,” the archdiocesan statement said.

“They should know they are seriously endangering the peace and the respectful relationship between citizens that is required.”

The archdiocese’s statement pointed out that “it is not acceptable to instrumentalize the Virgin Mary, disrespecting her” in order to promote “an aggression” against the Catholic faith.

It concluded by calling all Catholic people to “protest, demanding respect and the immediate suspension of this criminal action, that is disrespectful.”

An online petition against the event had been created the day before by an independent Catholic organization from Belo Horizonte, the Instituto Sao Pedro de Alcantara, gaining more than 28,000 signatures.

A couple of hours after the archdiocese published the statement, the mayor of Belo Horizonte, Alexandre Kalil, posted on his Twitter account that the event would be canceled: “I defend all liberties. I’m a Catholic, devoted to Saint Rita of Cascia. Don’t worry, nobody will attack any religion. This is not culture.”

The performance was created by the artistic group Academia Transliteraria (Transliterary Academy), formed mainly by transvestite, transsexual and transgender artists. It was first presented two years ago and includes a mock procession, in which the audience is invited to take part. The actors distribute leaflets with a prayer to Our Lady of the Transvestites and sing parodies of Catholic hymns.

A very traditional song in Portugal and in Brazil about Our Lady of Fatima is one of the satirized chants that can be seen in video clips posted on the internet by the group.

According to a note published on the group’s Facebook page, the idea for the performance came about during the rehearsals of a previous show, as one of the participants “threw the transgender flag over her body and put on her head a floral crown.”

“She looked like a sacred entity and then (…) we envisaged something like a cult to all transvestites, from our group or not, as a form of celebration of life,” the Facebook post said.

The theatrical company claimed that the performance does not intend to “deny the faith of other people.”

“This is not Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus, but another Lady, our transvestite, a lady that is daily excluded from society (she is looked at with horror and contempt), from the world of arts and culture (she is condemned never to have ideas or opinions), from the economy (only prostitution is left for her), from the streets (except for the corners where there is prostitution), and from religion (as if she was not part of the bigger mystery of life),” the group said.

The artists claim they were never officially informed of the suspension of their performance and accuse the city government of Belo Horizonte and the Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo of censorship.

“We are open to dialogue and we are against any kind of censorship of art in Brazil. It should be noted that Minas Gerais [the State where Belo Horizonte is located] continues to be the State with the highest number of murders of transvestites and trans people in Brazil, which is the country with the highest number of murders of transvestites and trans people in the world,” the group said.

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