December 29, 2015

Roundhouse should scrap discrimination bill and get to work

Algernon D'ammassa

Algernon D’Ammassa is a writer, theatre artist, and founder of the Deming Zen Center.

The second session of New Mexico’s 52nd legislature will begin on January 19, and our elected rascals have quite a bit of work to do.

Algernon D'ammassa

Algernon D’ammassa

New Mexico had the highest unemployment rate in the nation last month: 6.8 percent. Household incomes are among the lowest while our numbers on poverty and child hunger are among the highest. Violent crime is also high, hardly surprising considering these other statistics.

Our suffering is reflected in attrition rates over the last five years—folks who can afford to move are quitting New Mexico in higher numbers than new arrivals. The vision from the governor’s mansion is limited to trickle-down economics. There is much for our state legislature to do.

Two of our representatives are not content to stop there, however. State Reps. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, and Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, have also decided that New Mexico also needs to do more to oppress gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. “O fair New Mexico…Our hearts with pride o’erflow.”

Ahead of the next session, Gallegos and Espinoza have introduced House Bill 55,  consisting of amendments to the Human Rights Act and the New Mexico Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to allow discrimination against LGBT persons provided that discrimination is “substantially motivated by religious belief.” If it becomes law, New Mexico would join Arkansas, Indiana, and Mississippi among states equating social discrimination with the free exercise of religion.

This is one of those faux “religious freedom” laws that legislate a “right” to discriminate against a select group of people. The license to hate is then passed off as religious liberty, despite the fact that even among the Abrahamic religions that dominate society, there is not a consensus that God wants us to hate gay people. The Jesus of the New Testament has little to say about them.

We have yet to move on from the idea that shopkeepers must be allowed to oppress groups they don’t like. Although the climate does not allow us to roll back protections against race, national origin, or gender, it is still open season on gay people. They may have won the right to civil marriage, but gay and transgendered people still experience much higher rates of violent assaults, including police violence. On top of that, they are aware that elected lawmakers are putting time and effort into tailoring laws that will allow them to be refused service at businesses, as if they were not citizens but provisional visitors to America, who should feel grateful they are allowed to walk the streets without being stoned to death.

House Bill 55 is a mere 10 pages in length and leaves a great deal of latitude for a hateful person to deny essential services to people. It is one thing, and bad enough, to refuse to sell a person a hamburger because they don’t affirm your conditioned ideas about gender. The bill also permits serious oppression such as denial of medical services. Gallegos has claimed, against common sense, that this will reduce lawsuits.

What these leaders fail to understand is that hate is not a freedom. Hatred oppresses not only the victims of discrimination, but the perpetrators themselves, who feel their identity and integrity are threatened by the presence of those who are different. To become fully human this fractured sense of identity and citizenship must be healed.

We have difficult challenges to face now and in the future, and we must do so in unity. House Bill 55 attacks New Mexicans and protects no one’s freedom. Let’s dump it and get to work.

Algernon D’Ammassa is Desert Sage. Write to him at