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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.105 Santiago ago. 2020

http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0717-69962020000200128 

Readings

Casa 1 and LGBTQ+ Resistance in São Paulo, Brasil

Artur De Souza Duarte1 

Renato Cymbalista2 

1 Mestrado en Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Escuela de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil. arturduarte@usp.br

2 Profesor adjunto, Escuela de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil. rcymbalista@usp.br

Abstract:

Resisting the discrimination, poverty or vulnerability associated with sexual identities is a daily practice for many people in the LGBtQ+ community. Casa 1 in São Paulo is an architecture that promotes these practices not only by providing a space for care and containment, but also by enabling the appearance of these identities in the public space, all thanks to community-scale performance strategies.

Keywords: resistance; inclusión; infrastructure; social services; research

There are many studies about the territorial dimensions and appropriation forms of public space of LGBTQ+ identities, but they are rarely found in urbanism. As a result, research showing their presence within cities fails to highlight the resources and spaces that serve them. This article analyzes the NGo Casa 1, an LGBTQ + refuge and cultural center which provides a set of resources aimed to assist them, and that has expanded to serve other vulnerable populations.

International research points to the specific needs of the homeless LGBTQ+ population. In Brazil’s context, some point out the fragility and inefficiency of public policies, usually focused on reuniting the people assisted with their families (Broide, 2006) or on the establishment of housing and work, which does not match the nomadic experiences and their peculiar relations with public and private spaces, also ignoring their vulnerabilities, mostly to violence and health problems (García, 2013). Studies also show the limitations of public services available, such as excessive rules imposed on users, the authoritarian position of staff, and inadequacy in dealing with different gender expressions (Salgado, 2011; Rosa, Brêtas, 2015).

Source: © Artur de Souza, Renato Cymbalista

Figure 1 Group of children drawing in the Galpão’s courtyard with gates open, as usual. 

In addition, most facilities only offer temporary shelter, “where the needs of their users are not even raised by the service” (Salgado, 2011:119). In São Paulo, social service centers are usually nonprofits funded by the municipality, making qualitative work difficult due to the need for inspection. As a result, social service facilities do not fulfill the role of generating a real change in the lives of their users.

‘Qualitative work’ would consider the various levels of vulnerability within the LGBTQ+ population. For example youth are coming out increasingly younger, around mid-teen years, when they are still financially dependent on their families. As a result, when expelled from home, they become particularly vulnerable (Quintana et al, 2010:1). In recent years, initiatives to address the specific needs of the LGBTQ+ demographic - especially regarding housing - have become urgent in Brazil. The greatest case in point is the nGo Casa 1. This initiative was kickstarted by a young man, financed by crowdfunding, and opened in January 2017 in a rented two-story house in Bixiga, a popular neighborhood in São Paulo’s downtown. In the beginning, the upper floor was used as housing for up to 16 vulnerable youths between 18 and 25 years old, while the ground floor was a cultural center. During the same year, the project expanded extending the housing to 20 beds and creating Galpão Casa 1 and a social clinic during 2019.

This paper is based on several visits and a diary kept by the lead author since April 2018. This experience facilitated the proximity to the organization’s staff, residents, former residents, neighbors, and enabled an empirical look at the NGo’s resources and territory. Here, Casa 1 is presented as an ‘intersectional structure’ that anchors resistance dynamics in the neighborhood, promoting alliances with different social actors, in a coalition of diverse resistances: political resistance, resistance to recurrent gentrification processes in the neighborhood, and resistance of marginalized populations. These resistance processes are closely linked to the NGo’s constitution as an infrastructure of care (Power, Mee, 2020) that operates with various social, political and urban issues.

Source: © Artur de Souza, Renato Cymbalista

Figure 2 Casa 1 Site plan. Distanced by only 300 meters, the three facilities create a constant flow of residents, former residents, volunteers, and users among them. Legend: * Arena Bela Vista is a social complex of soccer fields for training under the viaduct. * Casa Taiguara is a support center for homeless underage people. * The Theaters Oficina and Arcos are associates of Casa 1, and occasionally lend their facilities for Casa 1’s activities. 

What do LGBTQ+ youths need?

The housing agenda of the Brazilian LGBTQ+ movement is not new and there has always been a strong demand from their youngest. However, this has not been put into practice mainly due to a lack of financial resources. In recent years, some initiatives and public policies have emerged to address the issue, which served to uncover the vulnerability of these youths, showing that they need an extensive support network and that their needs are not adequately addressed by public housing and social services policies. In this context, Casa 1 stands out as an initiative that goes beyond providing shelter, offering qualitative support focused on their specific needs. Although it was not the first LGBTQ+ housing project, thanks to its marketing and spatiality strategies, it became the solution with the greatest visibility, financial support, and infrastructure, promoting the emergence of similar facilities around Brazil.

Besides segregation, the resilience of the community can also be seen in the Brazilian initiatives. They develop different survival strategies, which affect and diversify how they respond to the solutions for their reception, housing, and autonomy. What differentiates the facilities, then, is their limits (what degree of vulnerability they can attend to and provide for) and how to deal with each case that reaches out to them. What distinguishes Casa 1 is the ability to identify a specific social need and respond to it, while opening it to other social demands.

In this way, Casa 1 stands out as an ‘infrastructure of care.’ This concept refers to the architectural structures that host services such as daycare centers, nursing homes, and health centers, but also to a set of actions and devices that support the daily life of the population (Gilroy, Booth, 1999). This ‘social care’ includes health, housing, sanitary conditions, and employment, which translates into the right to the city and citizenship conditions. The concept can spread through shelters for the homeless (Conradson, 2003; Lancione, 2014) and for refugees (Yassine et al, 2019; Boano, Astolfo, 2020), housing access (Power, Mee, 2020), but also through grassroots actions which “coalesce to form intimate nodes of life-support in cities that are quietly remaking forms of sociality, collaboration, democracy, and justice” (Alam, Houston, 2020:1).

An intersectional program for a multiple neighborhood

The three Casa 1 facilities are located in a peculiar area. The Bixiga neighborhood has historically suffered and strongly resisted gentrification attempts, and the constant disputes among its inhabitants. Its implementation here is justified by Bixiga’s peripheral conditions, such as the existence of tenements, racism, drug trafficking, police violence, and the presence of a vulnerable population. Thus, Casa 1 serves as a point of support for those who suffer violence, especially motivated by LGBTQphobia.

Source: © Artur de Souza, Renato Cymbalista

Figure 3 The diagrams show the living space on the upper floor and the social spaces on the ground floor. The library serves the general public, holds events and has a children’s programming. The Donation and Care room assists homeless people who cannot be sheltered by Casa 1, providing them with personal hygiene items, clothes and blankets. The commercial typology allows these spaces to establish a direct connection with the street. Legend: 1. Collective room 53,39 m2; 2. Laundry 2,97 m2; 3. Bathroom; 4. Kitchen 8,37m2; 5. Showers 5,75m2; 6. Community library 27,64 m2; 7. Multipurpose room 21,86 m2; 8. Donation & care room 12,70 m2 

These characteristics are derived mainly from Bixiga’s historical occupation. The irregular topography - as well as the presence of watercourses and floodable areas - first allowed refuge to the runaway slaves and, after the abolition, continued to receive former black slaves and Italian immigrants who lived from commercial activity. The neighborhood was composed of different social groups and dwellings, predominantly collective typologies that usually merged housing, work, and leisure. Its proximity to the downtown and the Paulista Avenue, the economic center of São Paulo, continued attracting new layers of population, such as migrants from the north and northeast - historically poorer regions in Brazil. Despite this diverse origin, the neighborhood went through processes of ethnic memory and touristification in the 1970s/1980s, that sought to reconnect it to only one specific origin, the Italian, producing disputes and silencing over other groups (Lanna, Rosa, 2019; Gonçalves, 2016). For example, the heritage listing of properties greatly privileged Italian heritage, overshadowing or ignoring the presence of African Brazilians and migrants from the Brazilian Northeast. However, this listing was important for the neighborhood’s architectural identity and resistance in a city known for its constant demolitions.

Recently, several other conflicts have been raised in the face of proposals for urban and community intervention projects. The scarcity of open areas in the neighborhood creates resistance from the population regarding their free areas. Other recent cases also show a strong performance by civilian organizations, such as cultural institutions, theaters, residents’ associations, collectives, and organizations, among which Casa 1 stands out. The proximity of its facilities creates a network of action between these and other neighboring facilities. Thus, this network’s performance shows the neighborhood’s concern for the constitution of common spaces as important everyday structures.

Source: Casa 1 (2017a)

Figure 4 Casa 1’s literature and art fair in June 2017. Awnings, clothes racks, chairs and tables took over the sidewalk. 

During its implementation, the NGo inserted a vulnerable LGBTQ+ population in the neighborhood in a very cautious and caring manner. In its routine, this care is maintained by managing conflicts and seeking a harmonic interaction within the community, while also establishing partnerships with local structures such as stores, theaters, schools, and Health Units (UBS).

Source: Casa 1 (2017b)

Figure 5 Occupied sidewalk in front of library during an event in partnership with a collective of bisexual militancy, September 2017. 

The original facility is a two-story house. Its upper floor consists of the housing unit, a shared room with 20 beds. On the ground floor, there are three cultural and service spaces: Communitarian Library, Donation and Care Room, and a multipurpose room, where the Casa 1 Cultural Center used to operate.

The initial purpose of creating a cultural center attached to the housing was to finance the nGo through revenues. However, the organization realized the need to integrate with the neighborhood and decided to make all the activities free of charge (Casa 1, 2018a). Then, new strategies were adopted in the programming and operation, converging with the historical educational nature of the Brazilian lGBtq+ movement and its youth’s demands: “It’s not enough to discuss discrimination only among LGBTQ+ people; to seek broader changes, the youth’s organizations also seek to involve heterosexuals” (Daniliauskas, 2016:126).

However, as a result of the limited space available at the beginning of Casa 1’s operation, the sidewalks had to be constantly appropriated, leading to conflicts with neighbors during certain events.

A few months after the inauguration, the cultural program grew constantly. The hosting time was restricted to four months, and as soon as tenants started to leave the organization began to see the cultural center also as a resource for former residents, as a place of continued assistance, support, and political resistance. In October 2017, the cultural center was moved to a new unit, the Galpão Casa 1 (‘shed’), increasing the activities and the public reception, while separating the housing and culture uses.

The aim of placing the Galpão in the same neighborhood was to broaden the dialogue with the area. This space of public interest sought to raise awareness, stimulate reflection, and make the area safer for Casa 1 residents, users, and members of the LGBTQ+ community in general. Coincidentally, the -NGo discovered that its building had accomodated the Amnesty Committee, a point of resistance during the Brazilian military dictatorship. Since its opening, there is only one main conflict left in the housing unit: the constant presence of homeless people waiting for assistance in the Donation Room.

In 2019, the Galpão hosted 12 fixed workshops with 39 classes per month, benefiting about 280 people (Casa 1, 2019b). The expansion of activities was made possible through a change in the nGo structure, transferring the mental health team (including psychologists and psychiatrists) to a new facility: Casa 1 Social Clinic.

Mental health care is crucial for vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially the youngest, who have a history of family and social exclusion (Keuroghlian et al, 2014; Maccio, Ferguson, 2016; Rhoades et al, 2018). These young people need assistance to organize themselves, achieve autonomy, and be able to leave Casa 1 in good mental health. So, the work of volunteer psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists, has always had a role in the residents’ routine. The workforce and services were expanded: since 2018, Casa 1 offered mental health services to the community at large. With the new space, besides scheduled appointments, 30 professionals take turns in order to provide around 100 emergency consultations per month (Casa 1, 2019a).

Source: © Artur de Souza, Renato Cymbalista

Figure 6 The diagram of Galpão Casa 1 shows the activity hall, studios and classrooms that host various events. The front yard is a constant activity space; it establishes a connection with the passers-by who notice the graffiti on the side wall and interventions on the facade. Legend: 1. Studio 75,89 m2; 2. Bathroom; 3. Kitchen; 4. Stage; 5. Mezzanine access; 6. Activities hall 77,30 m2; 7. Classroom 28,5 m2 and 27,78 m2; 8. Courtyard 96,40 m2; 9. Sewing and makeup workshop 34,71 m2; 10. Bajubá Acquis (LGBTQ+ Memory Collection) 11,76 m2

The clinic’s opening reflects a dynamic that was already being established in Casa 1: the intertwining relationships between housing, culture, health, and the acquisition of certificates, currently acting as an infrastructure of care, operating beyond the provision of shelter for vulnerable youths. And, while acting on several fronts of care, the nGo also fulfills some of the neighborhood’s necessities, since the facilities, services, and activities are open to the general public. Thus, arising the neighborhood’s interest while inserting new residents and consumers into it, hosting events, and promoting a more open relationship with the LGBTQ+ public and their own expressions of gender and aesthetics. Thus, the location with militant and anti-segregating characteristics won the support of the surrounding residents despite some daily conflicts.

Bodies in alliance: networking to address vulnerabilities

The bodies being assembled “say”: “We are not disposable” whether or not they are using words in the moment; what they say, as it were, is “we are still here persisting, demanding greater justice a release from precarity, the possibility of a viable life” (Butler, 2018:32).

In addition to strengthening alliances with the neighborhood, Casa 1 has taken on an intersectional approach in its agenda and programming. Its program is divided into care (welcoming and mental health), training (capacity-building courses like language, computing and makeup classes), and open programs (various events and workshops). The NGo constantly associates with collectives, organizations and social movements that guide them on issues specific to other minority groups. Several groups use its spaces, especially Galpão. The NGo assumes the role of a public space to unite following agendas:

· The LGBTQ+ community: by hosting events such as the educational lectures series “We need to talk about sex,” a transgender employment fair, presentation of plays produced by LGBTQ+ people, workshops like Drag makeup, and parties.

· Feminists: in debates, mixers, and even a sexual violence support group. Also, Casa 1 hosts a feminist book club.

· Black people: mostly in educational and protest events such as debates, lectures, study groups, workshops like “Make-up for black skin” and capoeira lessons as well as parties organized by Black movements.

· Other ethnic minorities (Indigenous and Asian people): in events such as debates, movies, exhibitions, a self-portrait workshop for racialized people. Casa 1 also hosts an Asian fair (Feira Pólvora) and a study group on Black and Indigenous art (Grupo de Estudos LASTRO).

We analyzed the 2019 events at Casa 1: among 89 events, 53 % had some intersection with the LGBTQ+ public; 23 % intersected with ethnic minorities (black, indigenous and Asian people), 19 % with gender and 4 % with children. Some events intersected simultaneously.

Figure 7 Diagrams of the Social Clinic. In addition to 6 psychotherapy assistance rooms, the clinic has a separate room for STIS testing and for PrEP supply (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), an HIV prevention treatment offered in partnership with the Medicine School of the Universidade de São Paulo. Legend: 1. Assistance room 1 13,05 m2; 2. PrEP Service 7,38 m2; 3. Assistance room 2 12,54 m2;4. Reception 18,1 m2; 5. Archive 9,64 m2; 6. Assistance room 3 7,61 m2; 7. Bathroom; 8. Assistance room 4 13,11 m2; 9. Assistance room 5 11,33 m2; 10. Waiting room 16,03 m2; 11. Alternative therapy room 11,41 m2; 12. Assistance room 6 8,55 m2; 13. Laundry; 14. Kitchen. 

Butler analyses the alliances between different minorities or populations considered as disposable. According to her, vulnerability may operate “as a site of alliance among groups of people who do not otherwise find much in common and between whom there is sometimes even suspicion and antagonism” (Butler, 2018:34). This alliance among the ‘precarious’ has been a strategy to establish “new forms of emergence” (ibid., 58) in order to overcome socially imposed restrictions. The author proposes the concept of “performativity” concerning both the act of being visible as a minority and the political demand for equality arising from this appearance in public space. The most expressive event held by Casa 1 in Butler’s performativity framework was the LGBTQ+ Collective Wedding in December 2018. As a protest and resistance to the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, a threat to LGBTQ+ rights, the nGo promoted a wedding for 38 couples financed by crowdfunding and private companies. According to Butler (2018:48), “in some liberal discourses, subjects are thought of as the kind of beings who come before an existing law and ask for recognition within its terms”; however, for this imposition to be possible, they must be able to gain visibility, which this event achieved.

In terms of Casa 1’s alliance activities, there are two possible distinct directions: a) the union with other groups benefits and strengthens them, since Casa 1 has a relevant network, scope and an appropriate physical space for events that many groups do not have; b) this union connects these groups to LGBTQ+ needs, expanding its support network. The intersectional perspective thus creates the possibility of feeding back the agendas of both sides. This perspective constantly engages Casa 1 in declarations and acts of criticism of public authorities and in polemics with other social actors, including the LGBTQ+ movement itself.

A recent example occurred in 2019, during the debate around the criminalization of homophobia by the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF). Casa 1 took a stand against it because it understood that this would be used as another way of incarcerating black and poor people. This position exposed the -NGo’s view of the intersectional markers’ influence in society but led to criticism from LGBTQ+ groups.

Another Casa 1 strategy is the work with children. These activities compensate somewhat for the lack of leisure spaces in the area and help the neighborhood’s parents, including those who are homeless. The activities also promote empathy and a consequent cultural shift in these children through the socialization with the LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, a play devised by the children in the theatre workshops was performed. The children themselves called it O Reino LGBT (The LGBT Kingdom). This was a symbolic event: a) the title shows that the work of sensitization carried out with children had an effect; b) Casa 1’s search for partnerships with neighboring establishments is constant, in this case using a neighboring theater for rehearsals and presentation; c) the -nGo seeks to develop the self-esteem of these children (mostly from poor families), by taking them to perform in a ‘real’ theater.

Casa 1 anchors a network of neighbors, civil society groups, private establishments, public facilities, and political leaderships, which converges in an alliance that presents itself to society in performative practices. In addition, the nGo is an inviting urban benchmark for many groups. Many of the hosted youths, when they leave Casa 1, continue to live in the neighborhood, taking this infrastructure as a hub for support, identity, and resistance.

Source: © Artur de Souza, Renato Cymbalista

Figure 8 Intersectionality at 2019’s Casa 1 events. In addition to the LGBTQ+-based events, the NGO has hosted a significant number of events based on gender and ethnic minorities. 

Conclusions

Although Casa 1 was initially founded as a means to respond to LGBTQ+ youths’ housing needs, the initiative has had, since its onset, objectives and strategies that go beyond this issue. By absorbing demands, the NGo traced paths that were not in the mind of its founder in 2016. The community-funded institution preserves the community’s functioning character and concern with the strengthening of social connections.

Source: Casa 1 (2018c)

Figure 9 LGBTQ+ Collective Wedding at Galpão Casa 1. 

Combining activism with housing, social services, mental health care, and cultural activities, the Casa 1 complex quickly became an urban benchmark for various groups in São Paulo. It shapes a network involving several actors and alliances in which different agendas of social movements come into dialogue. In addition, Casa 1 acts as an infrastructure of care operating in this network to seek social justice, highlighting the needs of vulnerable populations and providing services that strengthen them. These demands ultimately overflow from their original movements and are offered to the Bixiga neighborhood and to the general population. Casa 1 became a reference point for assistance as well as resistance. This is reinforced by its relationship with its surroundings, its existence as an open and common space, its welcoming of any kind of public, and its appropriation of public space.

Source: © Artur de Souza, Renato Cymbalista

Figure 10 Neighborhood children drawing with a volunteer in the library before going to school. 

The name Casa 1 means ‘first house’ or ‘home.’ Home is often understood as a safe and intimate domain, as opposed to public spaces (Boano, Astolfo, 2020). For young LGBTQ+ who face violence or expulsion, the concept of home can be the opposite. Often leaving the parental home can mean freedom, if they are prepared. However, when they are not, they need an infrastructure of care such as Casa 1. Within this space, there is no sense of total freedom either: although few, there are rules. Youth is an age of vulnerability and Casa 1 is designed to be a safe space to develop skills and learn about practical life issues.

The collective sleeping room is a challenge for privacy. Therefore, the expansion of care and, consequently, of infrastructure beyond housing plays an important role. In Casa 1, the network set up with the neighborhood, the functioning of Galpão as an open space, and the open mental health support for the general population have become central to the development of a broader infrastructure of care and, thus, an urban benchmark for the LGBTQ+ youths and other vulnerable populations.

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***

Artur de Souza Duarte Architect, Master’s student in Architecture and Urbanism, School of Architecture and Urbanism of the Universidade de São Paulo (FaU-UsP), Brazil, 2020. Scholarship holder for CNPq - Brazil (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development). His research focuses on housing aimed at sexual and gender minorities. Artur is volunteer at NGo Casa 1 and FICA fund, and works as a researcher in Laboratório Para Outros Urbanismos, FAU-USP, São Paulo, Brazil.

****

Renato Cymbalista Architect, Urban Planner (1996) and Doctor in Architecture at FAU-USP (2006). His interests include sites of memory, alternative models of property rights and the right to the city. He edited the book What does an Ethical Landlord Look Like? (Chicago Architecture Biennial, 2019) and The Guide to the Difficult Places of São Paulo (Anna Blume, 2019). He is an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Urbanism of the Universidade de São Paulo, a Professor in the Master’s Program in Intelligent and Sustainable Cities at UNINOVE, the President of the São Paulo-based Instituto Pólis, a board member of Casa do Povo (since 2014) and associate of Goethe Institute São Paulo.

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