On Wednesday, February 27, Bruna Benevides, a Second Sergeant in the Brazilian Navy, spoke in Chase Hall. Translated from Portuguese by Visiting Assistant Professor Jacob Longaker, Benevides advocated for tolerance and activism in her hour-long talk.
While Bruna Benevides was serving in Brazil’s Navy, she fought a mental battle unlike any other. As a trans woman, Benevides battled a hyper-masculine environment and countless stigmas all while coming to terms with her gender identity. After Benevides announced to her peers her intent to transition, she was promptly removed from her work due to “transsexualism.” Despite the setback, Bruna fought for her rightful place in the military and was reinstated to her duties in 2016.
As a trans woman, Benevides’ outlook provided a perspective that many Americans rarely get to hear firsthand. Of the 1.4 million people in the United States armed forces, 15,000 are transgender. However, Benevides is currently the only openly transgender servicemember in the Brazilian military, making her a true minority. Benevides’ talk came roughly one month after the United States Supreme Court upheld a ban instituted by President Trump in 2017 that effectively barred all transgender members of the military from service. Benevides responded to the ban by saying, “Once I am able to pass the exams and meet the requirements, it shouldn’t matter whether I am a transsexual woman to continue my work with the force.” She then went on to explain that being transgender did not translate to being incapable of performing duties. Around the midway point of her lecture, Benevides spoke to many criticisms that are commonly put forth in order to advocate against transgender military service. While addressing the argument that transgender military servicemembers usurp military funding, Bruna comically pointed out, that, “The military expenditures for trans members are roughly 0.001% of military spending, whereas the cost of treating erectile dysfunction in the military is significantly higher.”
Benevides moved on to disprove the idea that transgender people as a whole were at a higher risk to commit sexual violence, an argument used to promote bathroom separation bills. She cited that, “There isn’t any registered case of transgender-specific violence in a bathroom.” Finally, she stated, “People say that recovery time is too long to return back to work. It is actually about thirty days to work. The argument that we would be away from work for long is simply not true.” After tackling the common misconceptions, she stated, “There is no argument that is presented that is plausible or understandable that says transgender people can’t serve in the military.” After her lecture, Bruna took time to field the audience’s most pressing questions regarding transgenderism, the military, and life in Brazil. When asked if she was in any danger, Benevides shared harrowing statistics from her home country of Brazil. “In Brazil, a trans person is fourteen times more likely to be assassinated than a cis person.” Despite the danger, Benevides remains positive, revealing that occupying the maximum number of spaces possible is her best form of defense.
In the end, Benevides’ message promoted activism and tolerance across the world. She revealed that her fight was not against the Navy or the institution. Rather, “it is simply a fight that society should recognize that different people exist in the world. Diversity should be recognized and incentivized.”