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  • Writer's pictureLatin America Herald Tribune

Brazilian Trans Servicewoman’s 20-Year Legal Battle with Armed Forces

The first trans servicewoman in Brazil has been embroiled in a 20-year legal battle with the armed forces

Maria Luiza da Silva says she was pushed down the ranks to the reserves following her gender change.

She has been locked in a tireless legal battle since then which now seems to be coming to an end after a court ruling in her favor.

Da Silva joined the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) at the age of 18 as an aircraft engine mechanic, a job she carried out for 22 years earning the recognition of her superiors.

But her military career was cut short in 1998 when she underwent a gender change operation.

“I carried out my duties with great joy but I had something inside me since I was little that meant I felt female,” she tells EFE.

“When I started my career there was no possibility of a complete transformation but the Constitution (1988) gave me more guarantees and rights.”

When she began her transition she encountered strong resistance and was pressured to abandon the process.

She was forced to take early retirement after her surgery and was deemed incapable of military service by a medical board.

This triggered a legal battle that has lasted more than two decades, first to rejoin military service and also to ensure she would receive a full pension.

“The intention from the beginning was for the judge to determine my reintegration but due to so many appeals the process was drawn out,” she says.

“I could no longer resume activities and from then on my only option was to ask the judiciary for my rights to be recognized, my military progressions.”

After a string of lawsuits the Superior Court of Justice this week recognized Da Silva’s right to a full pension under the rank of second lieutenant ruling that her right to career progression “was withdrawn due to an administrative illegal act that had been voided based on irrefutable discrimination.”

The decision can still be appealed in court but Da Silva says she is confident that “the fight may be drawing to an end.”

“My fight so far is already a great victory,” the 59-year-old adds.

Her lawyer Max Telesca says the ruling has set an “extremely important precedent” that can push others to “adopt a similar attitude.”

“It is very important that this decision has arrived at this historic moment because ultra-conservative forces are intent on putting the brakes on the conquests of civilization,” Telesca tells EFE.

He described Da Silva’s case as historical and says it shows that the process of civilization continues to progress despite a strengthening of the most conservative sectors in Brazil culminating in far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s election victory in 2018.

“The moment we are witnessing is a setback, a reaction to many advances,” Talesca adds.

“It is natural that it happens because there is a segment that does not believe in those rights but they are a minority.”

Da Silva hopes her struggle can serve as an example for other men and women, including those within the Brazilian Air Force.

“I was the first trans-military member of the FAB but from the beginning, I knew I would not be the only one,” Da Silva says.

Her story will hit the big screen this year with the documentary Maria Luiza.


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