BUENOS AIRES — Pope Francis' native country has passed what is believed to be the world's first law of its kind: a requirement that the local government in the Buenos Aires province set aside at least 1% of its jobs for transgender people.
The law passed unanimously Thursday by the Buenos Aires Province Senate applies to the entire region surrounding the capital that is home to 40% of the country's population. The measure enhances the reputation of the heavily Catholic nation as one of the planet's most progressive countries for people who have changed genders surgically or self-identity with a gender different from what they were assigned at birth.
Other countries have laws protecting transgender people from employment discrimination, but they do not include hiring quotas. The new law applies to "transvestite, transexual, and transgender people older than 18 years of age, that comply with the ideal conditions for the post they are applying to," according to its text.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community hailed the passage as a milestone in its fight for equal rights. "We are very happy because we did not think that we could get to such an important moment," Diana Sacayan, secretary of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Buenos Aires, told local news agency Telam.
The LGBT community is still the target of hate crimes in the country despite Argentine society's general acceptance of that lifestyle. In 2014, there were seven documented murders of gays, lesbians and transgender people, compared with 10 in 2013, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Argentina Homosexual Community.
Marcela Romera, the director of the largest transgender organization in Buenos Aires, said there are 4,000 transgender people in the province of Buenos Aires and about 12,000 in Argentina.
“It sounds perfect to me because … these are human beings who could contribute to many industries,” said Mariano Caviglia, 31, a gay textile worker who is from a town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. “It is good for a company, too, because hiring transsexuals has always been a taboo. So it is a way to show acceptance of diversity and contribute to normalizing this process. It will contribute to making the next generations more open.”
Supporters of the law, which does not go into effect for several months, say it will integrate transgender people into mainstream society so many won't have to support themselves selling sex.
“This is a great law that offers opportunities to transsexuals so that they don’t prostitute themselves and put their lives in danger,” said Celeste Lirrazabal, a transsexual from Argentina’s northwest city Jujuy.
Lirrazabal said she changed her identity to female when her father passed away and spent two decades working as a prostitute.
“There are still areas where there is a lot of discrimination against transsexuals, especially on the soccer field,” she said. Lirrazabal plays professional soccer with men. Her dream is to play in the top division, but she said her gender identity is an obstacle.
In 2012, Argentina passed what the World Health Organization called the most progressive gender-identity law on the planet. It allows people to change their gender on official documents without a psychiatric diagnosis from a medical professional or first undergoing gender-reassignment surgery, as is required in the United States and much of the world. In addition, the Argentine state is responsible for paying for the surgical procedure and hormonal treatments.
Although the United Kingdom, Spain and Uruguay passed the first legislations allowing official changes of gender identity in 2004, 2007 and 2009, respectively, Argentina implemented the most liberal law.
To give more rights to the LGBT community, Argentina’s Health Ministry said Wednesday it would allow gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people to donate blood. In many nations, gay men can donate blood only if they have not had same-sex relations in the past year. In the United States, the FDA has proposed lifting its decade-old ban on donor blood from any man who has had same-sex relations anytime since 1977.
Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 — five years before the United States — after clashing with the Roman Catholic Church, which has traditionally held significant power over social mores in the country.
But Pope Francis sent shock waves throughout the Catholic Church in March when he had lunch with gay and transgender inmates at a prison in Naples, Italy.
In a separate action, the pope fostered more acceptance of the LGBT community among Catholics, when he famously said in 2013: “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”