Transgender activists in Argentina are celebrating a huge legislative win: Last week, at the tail-end of Pride Month, the country’s Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill for the Trans Employment Quota. The law, which builds on a presidential decree from 2020, requires that at least 1 percent of the positions in the public sector be reserved for transgender people. It also issues an employment nondiscrimination act and establishes economic incentives for private companies that hire trans employees.

The imposed quota could result in 32,000 jobs set aside for transgender Argentines, based on the latest statistics for registered employment in the public sector by Argentina’s Labor Department. As the Buenos Aires Times reports, in a country where the vast majority of transgender individuals work outside the traditional job market, a law like this could change lives. LGBTQ activists say that the bill also has an important symbolic effect: It helps to “break apart” social stigma, according to Valeria Licciardi, an Argentine journalist and trans activist.

The law, which is expected to be signed by President Alberto Fernández, follows a legacy of other historic legislation in the country. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to approve same-sex marriage, and in 2012, a first-of-its-kind law allowed citizens to register their correct names and gender in official documents. In 2018, neighboring Uruguay passed its own trans employment quota as part of the country’s comprehensive transgender law.

Other countries are also advancing similar efforts, including a trans quota bill in Brazil that was proposed earlier this year. The Bangladeshi government may also start giving tax breaks to companies hiring trans workers.

In the United States, transgender rights have also seen recent wins. In June 2020, the first major Supreme Court decision extended workplace protections to gay and transgender employees. Just this past week, the Supreme Court rejected a Virginia school board’s appeal to reinstate its transgender bathroom ban, and the State Department announced that a third gender will be available on passports. But at the state level, the issue is increasingly up for debate as many conservative legislatures have moved to ban transgender girls from playing on public-school sports teams.

Argentina’s quota stands out, advocates say, because it is not only about the number of trans people that enter the formal workforce, but about how they do it.

“There are two fundamental axes — one is the educational completion. Our law says that we need to create public measures for them to finish school,” said Alba Rueda, Argentina’s undersecretary for diversity policies within the ministry of women, gender and diversity and the first trans person to hold office in the country. “Another aspect is training them for basic aspects of employment. For 90 percent of the trans population, having health insurance, a retirement plan, paid vacations and a life projection based on your capacity to work is a new thing.”

For many transgender people living in Latin America, finding employment is difficult, even for positions that don’t require an education. Such has been the case for Luana Vélez, a 40-year-old who lives in Buenos Aires. Some years ago, she said, she quit sex work to finish her secondary studies and ultimately ended up working at a community organization. But it took time to get there.

“I saw an ad when I was younger. They were looking for a cleaning lady. When the woman that was interviewing me heard my voice, she said that she didn’t want a man working for her,” Vélez said. “This law makes me think that I can be included in society — having a job, paying taxes and being able to support myself.”

LGBTQ advocates have long tried to make a law like this possible, and activists have been presenting different drafts of the bill for years — from 12 to 15, according to Rueda.

This advocacy has largely been born from the dire hardships the transgender community faces in the region. In Latin America, the life expectancy of transgender people is 35 to 41 — while the life expectancy for cisgender people in the region is 75. Among the main causes of early death are HIV/AIDS, transphobic crimes, institutional abuse, lack of job opportunities and general poverty, according to the organization RedLacTransgender.

Integral legislation, such as the employment quota, is crucial to addressing these disparities, according to advocates.

“The nondiscrimination principle is based on an action that addresses the lack — or the violation — of a right,” Rueda said. “In this case, the starting point is the acknowledgment of the social and structural inequity in which this population lives.”

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