New Mexico poised to strengthen state Human Rights Act

While many U.S. states attack trans existence, New Mexico appears headed in the opposite direction

By: - March 16, 2023 4:00 am
People gathered outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin on March 13, 2022, to protest Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to investigate families of transgender children.

People gathered outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin on March 13, 2022, to protest Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive to investigate families of transgender children. (Lauren Witte / The Texas Tribune)

While state legislatures around the United States are considering or passing laws that exclude transgender people from citizenship and public life, the New Mexico Senate on Tuesday night voted to expand the New Mexico Human Rights Act specifically to prohibit discrimination against trans people.

Since 1969, New Mexico’s Human Rights Act has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, House Bill 207 would expand the statute “so that there are no loopholes in the law,” co-sponsor Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) said.

Following in the footsteps of North Carolina’s infamous 2016 “bathroom bill,” which effectively legalized anti-LGBTQ discrimination, state lawmakers across the country have advanced more than 400 pieces of legislation in 2023 alone which attack trans youth and adults’ access to public education, health care, restrooms, and legal recognition of their gender.

Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Las Cruces), who carried the New Mexico bill in the state Senate, said the legislation will honor differences between New Mexicans, protect residents, and make sure public funds do not support discrimination.

Senators passed the bill Tuesday night in a party-line 26-10 vote. Six senators were absent from the debate.

“I am glad we have taken a protective stance for trans and queer kids in New Mexico, when so many across the country are increasingly fearing for their lives,” Hamblen said, her voice breaking.

The bill, if signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, would prohibit public entities and public contractors from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability, pregnancy, serious medical condition or spousal affiliation.

What are the differences between sex and gender?

Sex is what a person is assigned at birth, either male, female or intersex, according to the legislation.

Gender is how society and other people see a person on the scale of masculinity and femininity.

What is the difference between gender and gender identity?

While gender is how society perceives a person, according to the definition written in the bill, gender identity is how a person sees themselves.

Sen. Hamblen, for example, identifies as a masculine presenting woman who loves tools, her cats, her home and her wife.

The legislation does not determine whether a government or individual entity is discriminating, Hamblen said. Instead, those findings are made by the state Human Rights Commission.

Lawmakers cannot create protections for all young people to end depression, anxiety, stigma, or suicidal intentions, said Sen. Leo Jaramillo (D-Española). They can however ensure that people charged with educating and protecting young people do so for LGBTQ+ youth across the state, he said.

“Let’s set a proper example across the nation and exemplify how many lives can be saved due to this critical piece of legislation,” Jaramillo said.

The Senate on Tuesday also passed related measures requiring menstrual products be made available in public school bathrooms; and prohibiting insurance companies from denying patients access to prosthetics or orthotics or changing someone’s insurance premiums because of a disability.

Sen. William Sharer (R-Farmington) tried to amend House Bill 207 to exempt religious organizations from the nondiscrimination law, but the Senate rejected his amendment.

“If any religious entity is receiving our taxpayer dollars, then those monies cannot be used to discriminate,” Hamblen said.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) said the amendment would allow religious organizations to discriminate and use public funds to do so.

“That’s what we simply cannot allow,” Ortiz y Pino said. “There have been religions that supported segregation, apartheid, there have been religions that supported slavery. But they should never have been given government money to do those things.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.