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13 May 2010

Brenda Lee (1948 – 1996) sex worker, business woman, Aids activist.

Cicero Leonardo Caetano was born in Bodocó, Pernambuco, Brazil (map)and moved to Bexiga in São Paulo at the age of 14. Using the name Brenda Lee, she was one of the first travesties to work in Paris in the late 1970s as a prostitute.

She returned to São Paulo in 1984 and bought a house in the Bixiga neighbourhood at rua Major Diogo, 779, which she decorated in gold and white, inside and out. Her car was also done in the same colours. She turned the building into a Casa de Apoio to care for those with HIV who were rejected by their relatives, as many were after a series of murders of travesties in the South Zone of Sao Paulo in 1985.

It started with three patients and in 1988 an agreement was signed with the São Paulo Ministry of Health, and in 1992 was legally incorporated. She worked with the Emilio Ribas Hospital which took those who needed hospitalization. Brenda also had a car repair business and a hairdressers in the building.

In 1987 she was featured in Pierre-Alain Meier’s documentary about São Paulo trans women.

In 1996 she was brutally murdered and her body found in an abandoned VW van, after she went to sort out a cheque that had been altered after she signed it. She was given a full Catholic funeral with representation from the Cardinal-Archbishop.

A Brazilian award for defending human rights was named the Brenda Lee Award.

* Not the Country singer.

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