Pride Profile: Steven Butterman

To celebrate Pride, we've collected experiences and insights from just a few of our researchers and scholars studying areas of interest in LGBTQ+ art, communities, and health. Below, learn more about Dr. Steven Butterman.

What are your research and scholarship interests?

I work on LGBTQ+ literary and cultural production of the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) world, focusing on Brazil but also examining literary works, authors, and cultures of Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, and São Tomé e Príncipe.

My first book examines queer-themed Brazilian poetry during the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964-85.  My second book looks at media coverage and representations of the world’s largest annual Pride Parade (São Paulo). My third book, just released, takes up cultural representation of LGBTQ identities as “language” in contemporary Brazilian visual cultures (i.e., film, social media, museum studies, sociolects, and literature), including in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, quarantine, and lockdown.

As an openly gay man who teaches literacy in a language and a culture that is not my own (one which I have adopted out of intellectual interest and passion), I feel ethically accountable for giving back to the communities that I research.  For this reason, I have served and continue to execute the role as an expert witness in numerous asylum cases of LGBTQ+ Brazilian individuals (and, to a lesser extent, also from Angola and Mozambique) who are seeking asylum in the U.S. due to persecution as sexual and/or gender minorities in heteronormative cultural contexts that reject or repress them just for being who they are. Brazil, for example, is the world’s #1 perpetrator of assassination of LGBTQ (particularly but not exclusively gay male and male to female transgender people of color, as is the case in the U.S.). Part of my job is to call international attention to this largely ignored or unknown social injustice and to study the origins and continuation of HomoLesBiTransphobia in Brazil and beyond. However, as academics who are also community members, I believe we must put theory into practice and do whatever we can to engage with and assist the communities we study. One way of doing that work is to help clients who often risk their lives, loves, and livelihoods to gain asylum in a country where they can exist as themselves in relative peace.  That being said, we must also resist the kind of false security or fall into a complacency which would make a claim that queer life is “better” in the U.S.  The oral history of these individuals and communities, particularly those who returned to Brazil after being granted asylum in the US is in fact, at the heart of my next project, made possible by a 2021-22 U.S. Fulbright Scholar Award that will take me to the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil next summer to collaborate, teach, and study with colleagues and students in the Graduate Program on Oral History and Memory Studies. I anticipate that this collaborative project will result in a future book on the topic of my Fulbright proposal:  “LGBT+ Brazilians Outside Brazil:  Cultural Representations of Human Rights Discourses, Identity Reconstruction, and Political Asylum.”

What makes Miami a unique place to conduct this research?

As a former director of Gender and Sexuality Studies, I led a Steering Committee to create the minor in LGBTQ studies, the first institution in South Florida to do so. As a faculty member of the U for two decades, I am proud to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the minor in the fall. I am always pleased to have the privilege of teaching Queer Studies from a transnational and intersectional perspective with a truly interdisciplinary scope that encourages in-depth examination of sociopolitical manifestations, activism, and “artivism” not only in South Florida and in the United States, but throughout the contemporary world and from a wide variety of perspectives and (inter-)disciplines. In 2018, my undergraduate course in “Queer Studies” was rated as one of the best LGBT studies classes in the state of Florida by SFGN (South Florida Gay News). I take great pride in our flourishing minor which enjoys the support of community donors, allowing us to award a competitive LGBTQ Studies Scholarship that has benefitted dozens of UM students entering the professions (pre-Med, pre-Law, and pre-Nursing). Our communities benefit significantly when our dedicated alumni promote inclusive healthcare and legal advocacy for their LGBTQ+ patients and clients and equal treatment for all, regardless of their own sexual orientation or gender identity.

A sampling of the midterm collages/posters produced by undergraduates in Dr. Butterman's Queer Studies course.  A collection of these student-donated posters from the first iteration of Queer Studies taught in 2011 to 2020 will soon be an important part of the Richter Library’s Special Collections.

What should we know about supporting LGBTQ+ research and researchers?

For me, inclusivity, internationalization, intersectionality, and interdisciplinarity are the four “I”s that interconnect to inform groundbreaking research and excellence in teaching at the University of Miami.

Participation in both the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies has allowed me the privilege and the responsibility to teach courses on marginalized, underrepresented, and underserved populations that still experience systemic racism and sexism that lead to inequalities and hardships. Last semester, for example, I taught a class in Brazilian Women Writers in (English) Translation. When I teach my courses on Lusophone Africa, students learn how to bring to the center voices that are marginalized not only by geographical circumstances but by gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic inequalities, and language (Portuguese is still rarely taught at high schools and universities despite being the 6th most widely spoken language in the world with approximately 232 million native speakers).

I believe we need to collectively rethink what an inclusive curriculum truly means in practice. We must reject embracing terms like “interdisciplinarity”, “diversity” and “multiculturalism” as buzzwords and instead actively implement into practice the internationalization of our curricula so that we model for our students how to move beyond monolingualism and insularity in North American culture. As a truly hemispheric university, we need to support all of our students in acquiring and putting into dialogue languages other than their own to critically engage with diverse cultures in a global sense. In the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, we take our responsibility to teach global literacy very seriously…literally and figuratively.

Documenting Diversity and Democracy in Brazil

12 – 13 April 2021

This international virtual symposium, made possible by an Andrew W. Mellon CREATE Grant Dr. Butterman received in 2018 and the co-sponsorship of the Provost's Office and many other University and international constituents took place bilingually (in English and Portuguese) on 12 – 13 April 2021. 

Documenting Diversity and Democracy in Brazil highlighted the unique and richly-textured Leila Míccolis Brazilian Alternative Press Collection housed in Special Collections at University of Miami Libraries. The event featured keynote presentations by João Silvério Trevisan (Brazilian LGBT activist, journalist, and novelist), Dr. Leila Míccolis (Lawyer, activist, and writer) and Sonia Guajajara (Brazilian environmental and indigenous activist and politician), alongside invited papers of scholars who have worked with the Collection to showcase intersectionalities and (dis)connections between burgeoning social and political movements in Brazil from the military dictatorship (1964–1985) to the present day, as well as works focusing on human rights, social justice, and cross-fertilization of historical and sociopolitical trajectories that shed more light on recovering the voices of marginalized Brazilians.

Watch recordings of the keynote speeches and panels