A Toast to Gabriella

*By Penelope Saunders, BPPP Founder, Director of A Kiss for Gabriella


Gabriela Leite the founder of the Brazilian sex worker rights movement died this year in mid-October.

Her friends, family and comrades in the Brazilian whore revolution said on her passing that:“Gabriela inaugurated a new way of being and doing politics.”

She was Brazil’s “Number 1 Puta,” embracing the term prostitute to radically reinvent its meaning. Mainstream journalists and commentators have tried to “defang” her, repeatedly reporting that she was a “sociologist” perhaps because they felt that this is an “acceptable” profession.

But no… she was NEVER a “sociologist” or anything like that. She left her studies to pursue work in prostitution. Gabriela Leite was one of those very few people who stand openly and proudly as a whore. She would have wanted us to shout it out. She was a Puta. Prostituta. Freedom fighter until the last.

She sparked a movement, convening the first national meeting of Brazilian sex workers in 1987, establishing the organization Davida in 1992 and inaugurating an incredible clothing line Daspu—“of the whores”—in 2005. These last few years I have been fortunate enough to work on a project called A Kiss for Gabriela, letting people know about Laura Murray’s film that documents Gabriela’s run for federal office in 2010. Her husband Flavio Lenz was by Gabriela’s side, supporting her all the way.

Many, many years ago people warned me about Gabriela, saying that she was an opinionated diva who was “hard to work with” and hinting that perhaps I wouldn’t agree with her politics and her views. Having this chance to work with her so much recently I found out—just like I discovered when I started working with Robyn Few—that Gabriela did nothing more controversial than speak the truth, raise her voice as a woman and as a whore, and hold true to her open-minded vision of better future.

Divas? Maybe. Truth tellers? ABSOLUTELY.

Today, December 17, I celebrate and embrace the “opinionated whores” we lost in the last year, the year before, the decade before and the century before. We all stand a little taller because they went out in their (metaphorical) high heels.

Gabriela Leite, I am so sad you are no longer here. I wish we had had more time. But I know that your work will go on through the actions of all us.

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