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Argentina Goes Further To Protect LGBTQ Rights With New Law On Trans Employment

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

For years, Argentina has been at the forefront of legislation protecting and expanding LGBTQ rights. It was the first country in Latin America to legalize both same-sex marriage and adoption. It was also first in the world to allow people to change their gender on legal documents without permission from a doctor or a judge. Now, Argentina is going further. In June, the country passed a new law establishing a quota for transgender people holding public sector jobs. Joining us now to explain is Daniel Politi. He is a reporter based in Buenos Aires. He writes regularly for The New York Times and Slate. Welcome to the program.

DANIEL POLITI: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does the new quota for transgender workers actually mean? How will it work?

POLITI: Well, the law establishes a 1% quota, meaning that 1% of all public sector jobs should be held by trans people. So the way that they're starting to set it up is they set up a registry where people can sign up to be considered for these jobs. What makes this law particularly interesting and what activists had been pushing for is that the requirements to get the jobs will be slightly different. For example, education requirements that are minimums to get certain public sector jobs may not be considered for this population. Also, things like criminal records can be excused, if you will. So there's a certain leeway, if you will, to recognize that the trans population has lived hardships that maybe did not allow them to get the same kind of education and the same kind of experience in the workforce than other workers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did that number, 1%, come to be? I mean, is that a realistic figure? Are there any statistics that show how many people are transgender in Argentina?

POLITI: That's a good question. And the truth is that no, I mean, the 1% number is largely symbolic. There is no real accounting for how many transgender people there are in Argentina. And the 1% figure was a way to symbolize that they're going to be part of the government. They're part of society.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what has been the public reaction so far? I mean, this is, as we've said, sort of a big deal.

POLITI: To be honest, I mean, the reaction has been quite muted. I mean, Argentine society as a whole is very socially liberal. There's been complaints, though, from a lot of the opposition that at a time when the economy is not doing well, obviously the pandemic has been ravaging the country as it has much of the region and the world, that this shouldn't be the priority that lawmakers should be focusing on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I guess, finally, have you been able to speak with any transgender people about what they think about this law and how it might impact them?

POLITI: Definitely. I talked to several trans people about this right after the law was passed, when it was being debated, and they all talked about this being a step of dignity. They see the job, the entry into the workforce, as the way to lead a better life. The average life expectancy for the trans community in Argentina is only 41 years old. The general statistics that they said while they were debating the law is that as many as 90% of the trans population never had a formal job. A lot of trans people, especially trans women, are forced to go into prostitution. And these sort of initiatives that will give them access to public sector jobs will be able to change their lives, and that's what everybody I talked to said. This is the start of a new era for us where we'll be more visible. People will know that we can do these jobs. There's no reason why we can't. And this will help facilitate that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Daniel Politi, reporter based in Buenos Aires. Thank you very much.

POLITI: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.