Thomas Casavieja has just started a new job in a bank in Buenos Aires, excited at a legislative breakthrough that establishes a hiring quota for transgender people like himself in Argentina's public sector.
A decree published by President Alberto Fernandez's government last week requires that one percent of state vacancies be set aside for transgender individuals.
Thomas always felt he was male. Argentina’s 2012 law permitted a change of identity alongside gender and he feels this latest move is a landmark moment for a community that has long suffered.
Progress, however, has come “at a price," Casavieja said as he reflected on the belated government efforts to bring LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people into the formal employment fold.
"Even if Argentina is a pioneer in lots of rights, this is not free. It's come at the cost of many deaths in our community," says the 32-year-old, considering the decree to be a historic reparation.
"There is a systematic pattern of inequality in our society that subjects transvestites, transsexuals and transgender people particularly to a chain of exclusion and discrimination," said Women, Gender and Diversity Minister Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, justifying the legislation.
Although Argentina has been a trailblazer in Latin America with its gay marriage (2010) and gender identity (2012) laws, discrimination against the LGBT+ community persists. In the first half of this year 69 hate crimes were registered, according to the Ombudsman’s Institute Against Discrimination.
"The LGBT+ community is one of the most vulnerable and suffering the most inequalities here and throughout Latin America," underlines Alba Rueda, the government’s undersecretary of state for women, gender and diversity and a well-known trans activist.
The average life expectancy of trans people in Argentina is just 40 years, the Fundación Divino Tesoro gender and diversity programme has revealed in a recent report, "while in the rest of the region it is 35, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights” (CIDH, in its Spanish acronym).
"Those five extra years of life have been won as the result of social struggle. In this context, the quota is a historic step," affirms Rueda.
Making diversity visible
Before the government decree was announced, Casavieja had been taken on by Banco Nación, the country’s biggest state bank, as an advisor. He hopes to make the temporary job permanent under the new law.
Like many in Argentina's transgender community, the 32-year-old has never had a "proper job", but he feels his life has taken a turn for the better.
Thomas always felt he was male. Like many others, he was rejected by his family, had a fragmented education and went through a succession of dead-end jobs.
"Working in the bank is the opportunity to change my reality but also that of clients and colleagues. It’s fundamental that we start to transition into these spaces because the invisible does not exist," he says.
According to studies by the activist groups, over 80 percent survive on prostitution, and are extremely vulnerable to situations in which they suffer social and institutional abuse.
"Beyond the symbolic is the concrete – to have a pension and a healthcare scheme but also colleagues who worry about you and keep you company," highlights Thomas.
Married and with plans to have a family, he believes society needs "a cultural and social change which does not come from laws but paradigms."
Susy Shock, a trans writer, singer and teacher, applauds the quota but says it's just the first step in a long road to acceptance. She says the new quota can be used to build on the progress already made by trans people in society.
"We are celebrating this law! We're celebrating it because every little step for our community is enormous. But being decreed is not the panacea," she says, favouring an integral law debated in parliament.
Like Thomas, Susy understands the road towards integrating diversity to be cultural rather than legal and her activism clings to art as a tool.
Despite the pandemic restrictions, Susy has found a way of continuing her artistic activity in Buenos Aires, singing north-western folk music to the accompaniment of her guitar inside a cultural centre for the benefit of the occasional passers-by.
"We’re generating inclusion without any fuss," she explains. "We’re the 'travas' mixing with other people – that’s diversity, not covering the quota so people can feel inclusive.”
"You have no idea what it means to be singing here, for instance, or that a transgender person appears on TV as a journalist, as a thinker, or to be able to speak for ourselves and to not have to have others talking for us."
For her, what is still missing is the proper "embrace" of diversity in society.
"The community demonstrates that lack of an embrace. First, it’s the dad and mum who don’t love you, first; then, the police who persecute you; the state which negates you and doesn’t give you room to breathe, " she lists. “All that is the opposite of a hug.”
Susy also advocates inclusion for decision-making. "Thinking everything out together, insisting to the state that this is the way."
"The anti-hug is a political fact. We built from there and it cost us lives," she says.
by SONIA AVALOS, MAGALI CERVANTES & CARLOS REYES, AFP