Conservative Alckmin? The truth about Lula's vice

Geraldo Alckmin em 2016, quando era governador do estado de São Paulo.

Geraldo Alckmin in 2016, when he was governor of the state of São Paulo.| Photo: Government of the State of São Paulo

In the presidential elections of 14153830 , when Geraldo Alckmin ran against then president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, the PSDB candidate was intensely attacked by left-wing opponents with the adjectives customarily used against conservatives. In general, in the face of these onslaughts, his posture tended to be defensive or evasive, seeking to avoid the focus on the debate on customs, as Alckmin preferred to be seen as an exemplary administrator, avoiding controversial topics. History shows that at the national level this strategy never worked, but now that he joined the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and was nominated by the acronym to be Lula’s deputy, the labels he always rejected seem to serve well the narrative that the candidacy PT in these elections is moderate and democratic. The presence of the “conservative” Alckmin on the same ticket would be the greatest proof of that.

The thesis, however, is full of weaknesses and demands from the voter a dogged effort to ignore evidence that Alckmin’s tenure as governor of São Paulo fell far short of what could be called an authentic conservative government. Despite his frequent presence at Masses and his friendship with religious leaders, Alckmin was never able to go beyond the symbolism and cultural habits that refer to Catholicism. Situations of explicit promotion of gender ideology, for example, made with public money through state bodies that were under his command, were not enough for him to alienate political allies. The governor simply did not interfere.

These cases, added to the notorious rejection of the politician in considering himself conservative or “right-wing”, show that if Alckmin has – or had – moral and religious convictions that bring him closer to Brazilian conservatism, they never influenced his decisions as a ruler. There are those who consider this a virtue, but the omission in the face of blatant attacks on the family institution is a stain difficult to erase or forget, especially for an electorate that once belonged to the PSDB, but today is not afraid to present itself as a conservative. On the contrary, it prides itself on prioritizing moral issues.

Gender ideology

In the electoral campaign of 2018, when he finished the first round in fourth place, with 4.7% of the votes, Alckmin was forced to address the issue of ideology of gender, given the focus that the elected candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, placed on the topic. Participating in a Sabbath promoted by UOL, Folha de S. Paulo and SBT, he was asked if he was in favor of “gender discussion” at school. On the occasion, he limited himself to answering that: “in principle, I think that the issue of gender ideology is the family who should take care of it”.

In the relatively evasive answer, the candidate did not make any value judgment on the thesis that masculine and feminine would be mere socially constructed and fluid concepts, the core of the ideology of gender. Regardless, their governments never followed what the then candidate advocated in that campaign. If Alckmin really thought that gender ideology was a matter to be dealt with in the family, under his management, it was in state schools that teenagers learned about the variety of genres that would be available. The content was given with or without parental consent and the Alckmin government’s interest in the topic was not limited to theoretical explanations.

In 2013, for example, the São Paulo State Department of Education implemented gender toilets in state schools to serve the 365 students who were registered in the education network with the social name. In practice, they were common bathrooms, male and female, but boys who identified themselves and were registered as female were allowed to use the same bathroom used by the girls at school.

Far from being an isolated action and unknown to the governor, the initiative was prominently published on the institutional website of the Secretary of Education and reproduced by several local news sites. The text emphasized, moreover, that “all teaching units in the state network must follow the recommendations of the Education Department for the use of the bathroom and respect for treatment based on gender identity”.

The ministry’s concern with promoting gendered toilets was so great that a “series of guidance documents and videoconferences on the subject”. The content was available to regional boards of education and state schools. The secretary concludes the note reminding that “everyone must follow state law nº 214.2018 , which deals with discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity”. Said law was sanctioned on November 5, 2001, at the time Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who was in his first term.

The secretary of Education behind this and other similar actions, always promoting the concept of gender identity among adolescents in the state school system, was José Renato Nalini, a jurist who has been a judge at the São Paulo Court of Justice and held the position of secretary of Education from January 2022 to April .

During his administration, with the endorsement of Alckmin, the promotion of the concept of gender identity in schools came to take on an air of playfulness through a musical contest entitled Voices for Gender Equality, aimed at high school students across the state. In the edition of 2013, for example, the objective was to “bring the debate about the differences of gender, sexual orientation and other markers of difference”.

It was not Nalini, however, who started one of the most intense programs for the diffusion of gender theories in Brazilian schools. The Sexual and Gender Diversity Workshops began much earlier in the São Paulo network. In a material used in 2013 for teacher training, for example, teachers learned the concept that “women and men are products of social reality” and that “gender relations must be present in all curricular components”. In that year, the Secretary of Education was Herman Voorwald, and the governor, Geraldo Alckmin.

Materials used for training teachers of the state education network, in 2013, when Geraldo Alckmin was governor of São Paulo.

Opus Dei

In the past, noting the defensive behavior that Alckmin always showed in being called a conservative, one of the most used ways by his opponents to stick such a label on the former governor was to impute to him the condition of a member of the Opus Dei, a Catholic organization formed mostly by lay people, known for its fidelity to the doctrine of the Church and, precisely for this reason, often called d and pejoratively by anticlerical groups of “ultraconservative”. In general, also on this topic, Alckmin used to be evasive in his answers, which always fueled speculation.

With his name returning to the political news, this time as the deputy of a candidate who openly defends the legalization of abortion in Brazil, the old controversy resurfaces on social media. The report contacted the advice of the Catholic institution in Brazil and confirmed what had already been clarified in the past: Alckmin is not and has never been a member of Opus Dei.

The origin of the confusion is due to the bond that an uncle of Alckmin had with the entity. José Geraldo Rodrigues de Alckmin was Minister of the Federal Supreme Court, from 768 to 1978, being appointed by President Emílio Garrastazu Médici, during the military regime. Rodrigues de Alckmin, as he was called, was the first married member of Opus Dei in Brazil – at the time, all the others were celibate – which gave him a certain prominence among the other members.

There are records that Geraldo Alckmin, the politician, was very close to his uncle, coming to attend some activities of the institution and even receiving spiritual counseling. It should be explained, however, that these activities – such as lectures and debates – are open to anyone interested, including non-Catholics. Attending them does not make anyone a member of Opus Dei, a condition for which a formal application for admission to the institution is necessary, takes time and involves the approval of religious authorities. Geraldo Alckmin, Lula’s deputy, never asked for membership.

The report contacted Alckmin’s adviser to ask him to comment on the matter, his alleged relationship with Opus Dei and Lula’s recent statements about abortion, but received a response that the pre-candidate is not granting interviews at the moment.

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