04/22/1951 – 10/10/2013
Gabriela inaugurated a way of being and doing politics. Born into a middle class family in São Paulo, she left her college studies in 1970s to work in prostitution. In the late 1970s, she organized the first protests against the frequent human rights abuses she witnessed among her colleagues.
Gabriela deconstructed the stigma associated with prostitution and gave the term new meanings. In 1987, she organized the first national meeting of sex workers and in 1992, founded the NGO Davida.
In 2005, Davida launched the clothing line Daspu (of the whores) as a sustainability project. The clothing line attracted national and international media attention via catwalk-protests, catapulting the fight for sex worker rights into cultural spheres and public debate.
In 2010, she became the first prostitute in history to run for federal office.
Although she didn’t win, one of her opponents, Jean Wyllys, maintained his campaign promise to assume the fight for prostitute rights and in 2012, presented a bill in congress to completely decriminalize prostitution named in Gabriela’s honor.
As important as everything that Gabriela accomplished in her life was her way of being. She was magnetic, unforgettable, charismatic, free, brilliant, fearless, stylish, funny, forceful, present, persistent, wise, fierce, inspiring – a true partner, mother, wife, daughter, grandmother, advisor, friend and PUTA.
(From Gabriela Leite’s remembrance poster, October 2013).
Gabriela Leite was unapologetic about calling herself a puta, and argued that prostitutes in Brazil need to take the bull by the horns and reclaim the word. In a documentary about Gabriela’s life called A Kiss for Gabriela, filmmaker Laura Murray asks Gabriela why she thinks the word “puta” is important to use.
I have always liked the word. I think it is a word that has a nice sound and is hot. If all putas didn’t live with so much stigma in their heads, they would use the word. I think that we would even overcome prejudice before it occurs, because people would hear the word “puta” and at first be shocked, and then say, “Oh, it’s true, she’s a puta.”
I’ve been thinking about why I like this word, and I’ve decided that it is because of my daughters, and the children of my colleagues as well.
I myself, who was never a terrific mother, have thought about this. I have some colleagues who are terrific mothers, but don’t want their children to know they are putas. I, who am not a terrific mother, was worried about why my children are “sons of putas,” which is the most offensive thing you can call someone in Brazil.
This is horrible. So we need to change this. “Sons of putas” should be a name of pride for our children. That is my thinking.
When Laura asked Gabriela what the most important thing is to know about her, she said it is her sense of personal freedom.
I don’t regret being a smoker. I don’t regret anything. I could have died crossing the street. It’s just that I’m sick [with cancer].
People have a habit of blaming other things for what happens to you. Things happen. I made my decisions. I think this is the way I am.
Every decision I’ve ever made, including the decision to be a prostitute, is linked to a strong desire to take action and be free.
Rest in peace Gabriela.