Post provided by Douglas Cirino
of Rainbow Research the series returns to the British Ecological Society to celebrate Pride Month 2022! These special posts promote visibility and share stories from STEM researchers belonging to the LGBTQIA2S + community. Each post is related to one of the themes represented by the colors on the Progress Pride flag (Daniel Quasar 2018). In this post, Douglas Cirino shares their healing story in São Paulo.
Hello, my name is Douglas Cirino and I am a Brazilian PhD student in Ecology at the University of São Paulo! My acceptance of being gay and queer has a lot to do with going to college and studying life sciences.
Sadly, Brazil has strong homophobic attitudes, especially in the country’s inner cities. I come from a place not far (100 km) from the largest city in Brazil. During my childhood, I experienced life both in a small town and in a rural setting, which has shaped the way I see the world.
I went out – or to translate directly from the Brazilian Portuguese ‘I assumed myself’ (which I think is a nice expression) – into my second year at university. In fact, everyone at the university already knew my orientation, but I was always afraid to tell people from my home in the smallest town. It was through studying the biological sciences and understanding the sexual diversity of nature that I gained a lot of courage and supposed for all (including my family) that I am! Today my family is absolutely supportive and I have been living with my boyfriend – who is also a biologist and ecology researcher – for two years now.
Growing up in São Paulo
To share my story, I have to talk about São Paulo, the city that has shaped most of my life. First, São Paulo is not only the largest city in Brazil, it is also the largest city in the entire southern hemisphere! The metropolitan area is home to more than 21.9 million people and creates space for absolutely everyone – regardless of personality, sexuality or religion. The city is a haven for many LGBTQIA2S + people to meet each other and be themselves. This is important because, as I mentioned earlier, despite the happiness of the Brazilian people, our country is still home to discrimination and inequality. So when I moved to São Paulo to study at university I finally found myself and accepted what I was supposed to be.
However, one thing I missed when I was in São Paulo for my studies was the contact I had with nature when I lived in the countryside. To help overcome this, I developed a hobby of collecting houseplants. I’m really passionate about my plants and started collecting more and more of them – bringing nature to my town house during the pandemic. It was my growing passion for urban nature that helped increase interest in my field of research.
Healing the city
Megacities condense millions of people into relatively small areas, which can result in health problems caused by poor hygiene, pollutants, psychological stress, and urban warming. However, cities can be designed to inject healing into our urban landscape. The benefits of green areas in human well-being have been studied over the past few decades and there is strong evidence for the benefits that nature brings to people.
In my recent paper published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, I present the results from my Master’s Degree, which found that people living in neighborhoods with dense green infrastructure were healthier in terms of lower cardiovascular hospitalization and lower respiratory diseases. Greener neighborhoods, with more access to parks and trees on the street, can potentially reduce cardiac and psychological risks through a calming effect, increase the tendency to exercise, and promote a sense of belonging. It has the power to heal and reduce stress, contributing to better heart function and lower rates of anxiety and depression. We argue that urban planning should prioritize the creation of common green areas that are evenly distributed throughout the city.
As a landscape ecologist, I apply my skills to research how ecosystem services are provided in urban landscapes. It has a lot to do with my life story, uniting my love for diverse nature and different people, so that everyone feels safe and comfortable in the big global cities.
I think through my research, I am helping to heal the city that healed me.
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