Post provided by Douglas Cirino

The Rainbow Research series returns to the British Ecological Society to celebrate Pride month 2022! These special posts promote visibility and share stories from STEM researchers who belong to the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Each post is connected to one of the themes represented by the colours in the Progress Pride flag (Daniel Quasar 2018). In this post, Douglas Cirino shares their story of healing in São Paulo.    

Assume yourself

Douglas Cirino

Hi, my name is Douglas Cirino and I’m a Brazilian PhD student in Ecology at University of São Paulo! My acceptance of being gay and queer has a lot to do with going to university and studying biological sciences.

Sadly, Brazil has strongly homophobic attitudes, especially in the inner cities of the country. I come from a place not far (100km) from the biggest city in Brazil. During my childhood, I experienced life in both a small city and in a rural environment, which shaped how I see the world.

I came out – or to directly translate from Brazilian Portuguese ‘I assumed myself’ (which I think is a beautiful expression) – in my second year at university. Actually, everybody at the university already knew my orientation, but I have always been afraid of telling people from my home in the smaller city. It was through studying biological sciences and understanding the sexual diversity of nature, that I raised enough courage and assumed for everybody (including my family) who I am! Today my family are absolutely supportive and I’ve been living with my boyfriend – who also is a biologist and ecology researcher – for two years now.

Grown in São Paulo

To share my story I have to talk about São Paulo, the city that has shaped much of my life. Firstly, São Paulo is not just the biggest city in Brazil, it’s also the biggest city in the entire southern hemisphere! The metropolitan region is home to more than 21.9 million people and makes space for absolutely everyone – regardless of personality, sexuality or belief. The city is a refuge for many LGBTQIA2S+ people to meet each other and be themselves. This is important because, as I mentioned before, despite the happiness of Brazilian people our country is still home to discrimination and inequality. So, it was when I moved to São Paulo to study at university that I finally found myself and accepted who I was meant to be.

However, one thing that I missed while in São Paulo for my studies was the contact that I had with nature when I was living in the countryside. To help overcome this I developed a hobby of collecting houseplants. I am really passionate about my plants and started to collect more and more of them – bringing nature into my city home during the pandemic. It was my growing passion for urban nature that helped nurture interest in my area of research.

Green urbanization in São Paulo, Brazil

Healing the city

Megacities condense millions of people into relatively small areas, which can result in health problems caused by poor sanitation, pollutants, psychological stress, and urban heating. However, cities can be designed to inject healing into our urban landscape. The benefits of green areas on human welfare have been studied over the last few decades and there is strong evidence for the benefits that being around nature brings to people.

In my paper recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, I present 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 disease. Greener neighborhoods, with more access to parks and trees on the streets, can potentially reduce cardiac and psychological risks through a calming effect, increase tendency to exercise, and promote a sense of belonging. This has the power to heal and reduce stress, contributing to better cardiac functioning and lower rates of anxiety and depression. We argue that urban planning should prioritize creating shared green areas that are equally dispersed across the entire city.  

As a landscape ecologist, I apply my skills to research how ecosystems services are delivered in urban landscapes. This has a lot to do with my life story, bringing together my love for diverse nature and diverse people, so that everyone can feel safe and comfortable in large, global cities.

I guess that through my research, I am helping to heal the city which healed me.

You can follow Douglas on Twitter, Instagram, and ResearchGate.

Want to share your Rainbow Research story? Find out more here.