Argentina's Largest Bank Just Made a ‘Historic’ Pledge to Hire More Transgender People

Banco Nacion is the first bank in the world to adopt a quota for transgender people, the country’s banking union says. 
August 10, 2020, 1:51pm
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AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano

Argentina’s largest and state-owned bank has instituted a quota for hiring transgender people, a “historic” move that will ultimately result in a workforce that is at least one percent transgender.

Argentina is a leader on LGBTQ freedoms in Latin America, and the decision by the state-owned Banco de la Nación sets a strong example for the industry to follow.

"The time of exclusion, of a biased gaze and discrimination is over,” Santiago Cafiero, chief of cabinet ministers under President Alberto Fernández, said at the official signing on Wednesday of the agreement between Banco Nación and Asociación Bancaria, the union of bank workers in Argentina. The decision is an industry first, according to Sergio Palacio, the head of Asociación Bancaria.

Banco de la Nación, which employs around 17,500 people, has pledged to fill at least one percent of its positions with people who identify as transgender. The quota will be reached gradually, by ensuring that five percent of all new hires every semester are trans, said the bank. It amounts to at least 17 transgender people being hired every year. 

Ornella Infante, a leader in the trans community, called it “an act of historic reparation for a sector of society that dies between the ages of 35 and 40 years because they are denied rights.” The average low life expectancy of transgender people in Argentina is a result of a combination of persecution and discrimination that impedes proper healthcare, and often leads to violence and death, say rights defenders. Because of prejudice, the community also faces barriers to formal employment.

“It’s a hopeful act,” Infante, director of policies and practices against discrimination at the National Instituate Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism, told VICE News about the new agreement. “Today I got a lot of messages from friends who were already imagining themselves as bank workers, and leaders of other companies who are thinking of doing the same within their spheres.”

Buenos Aires, the most populous province in the country, legislated in 2015 that one percent of government jobs must go to people who identify as transgender. The National Congress is also debating whether to institute a quota for transgender people in the federal civil service. 

Argentina has made important advances when it comes to LGBTQ rights, including same sex marriage and a groundbreaking gender identity law in 2012 under now vice president Cristina Fernȧndez de Kirchner. The law allows transgender people to change the gender on their official documents so that it corresponds to their identity, regardless of whether they have undergone surgery or hormone therapy. 

Still, the move by Banco Nacion goes against the grain in Argentina, where discrimination against transgender people is deep rooted. 

“Figures from last year showed that we continue to be kicked out of our homes between the ages of 12 and 14,” Thomas Casavieja, a 32-year-old trans activist who helped draft the bank agreement, told VICE News. He will be the first hire under the quota, and only the second openly transgender person at the bank. 

Often forced onto the street at an early age by families who reject them, many young transgender people are unlikely to finish school. Only 12 percent of transgender people are in formal employment, said Casavieja. Access to healthcare and housing are serious problems for this marginalized group, and have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Infante, who is also a political leader in the left wing Movimiento Evita, said policies like the Banco Nacion quota can help tear down the barriers that remain. “We have legal equality, what we’re working for strongly now is real equality,” said Infante, who offers up her own trajectory, as someone who was tortured by police in the 1990s, as proof of the cultural changes that have occurred. 

Casavieja agrees that the younger generation has better tools now to be able to talk to their family and receive support as they confront prejudice and violence. 

But hate-motivated murders of transgender people remain a reality in Argentina. 

“They still want us dead because we challenge the patriarchy, and the comfort zones of binary gender identities. When you put that in doubt—something that is essential for a lot of people—everything collapses,” he said. 

The initiative at Banco Nacion, he says, is one of many more steps necessary to achieve meaningful change.

Cover: Thousands of women march during International Women's Day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. The sign on top reads in Spanish "I support transgender hiring quota" and, on bottom, "not one less." (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)