January 13, 2023

Bills to protect LGBTQ rights part of upcoming session

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

Legislators plan on introducing at least three LGBTQ-related bills in the upcoming legislative session, including one that would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act.

New Mexico Human Rights Act

Written in the 1960s, the New Mexico Human Rights Act could use a language update, according to Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, a nonprofit that serves the LGBTQ community. One of the things the bill will bring, if passed, will be updated definitions of gender identity, gender and sexual orientation.

“We’re crafting broad, expansive definitions to make sure this covers every person in New Mexico,” Martinez said.

The second thing the bill will do is close what Martinez called “a loophole” that has always existed in the New Mexico Human Rights Act. The original law prohibits discrimination but did not spell out explicitly enough which institutions could not discriminate. Martinez said the result is that a New Mexico school cannot fire a teacher because of their sexual orientation or race but a teacher in that school can legally discriminate against students in the classroom.

Martinez said it is an issue for EQNM because sexual orientation and gender identity are also not covered in federal discrimination law, which leaves LGBTQ individuals with little legal recourse if they are subject to discrimination in the classroom.

Martinez said there is an urgency to pass this bill now because of the waves of anti-LGBTQ debates happening across the country.

“We’re seeing queer and trans kids’ very existence being debated and denied in classrooms and school boards. We’re seeing springing up in New Mexico local school boards attacking trans kids’ bathroom and locker room use,” he said.

Martinez said that if the Legislature doesn’t address the loophole in the New Mexico Human Rights Act, “a local teacher who doesn’t want trans kids can say ‘you’re a boy, you can’t come to my class in a skirt.’”

“Sending trans kids to the principal every single day denies them an education,” Martinez said.

State Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, will carry this bill. She has sponsored a similar bill in the last two legislative sessions. 

“We need to update the definitions that agencies and organizations use for the LBGTQ community and to ensure that public money is never used to discriminate against an individual,” she said.

Currently, there is a loophole that allows public institutions of higher education as well as local entities like school boards, to discriminate. We have seen several court cases use this loophole to evade responsibility for their discriminatory actions and this is dangerous to the residents of our state,” Hamblen told NM Political Report by email.

Name change

HB 31, which has been heard in the Legislative chambers before, would abolish a requirement to publish a legal notice in the local newspaper announcing a name change. Martinez said the Legislature enacted the legal statute requiring 14 consecutive days advertising a legal notice in a newspaper before the federal government created social security numbers in 1936.

The original purpose for the statute was to prohibit individuals from changing their name to avoid creditors. But creditors now utilize social security numbers and the internet to track individuals who are indebted, regardless of name, Martinez said.

“I tell people now, no matter how many times I change my name, my student loans will find me,” Martinez said.

Not only is the law archaic, it is a safety issue and can negatively impact victims of domestic violence and stalking as well as transgender individuals, particularly in rural communities, Martinez said.

Adrien Lawyer, cofounder of Transgender Resource Center, said another aspect to consider is that when the Legislature created the law, the newspaper was “tomorrow’s garbage but we have the internet,” where information can live forever.

“It serves no positive purpose. Striking that requirement is not a significant change to the statute,” Lawyer said.

Lawyer said he changed his name many years ago.

“Most people aren’t doing it to get away with something. It’s for safety and personal preference,” he said.

House Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, is sponsoring the bill. She said through email that “as legislators, it’s our responsibility to provide protections for all of our constituents and I’m proud to stand beside these communities.”

“The requirement to publish a changed name in your local newspaper is not only outdated, but it is also dangerous for transgender individuals in our community as well as survivors of domestic violence,” she said. 

Sexual orientation and gender identification data collection 

Also previously introduced into the Legislature, the sexual orientation and gender identification data collection bill would put into statute Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive order, issued August 2021.

Related: New executive order to direct demographic information on the LGBTQ+ community

Lujan Grisham’s executive order mandates that all state agencies begin asking for voluntary data on gender identity and sexual orientation. She signed the order after the bill failed to be heard on the House floor due to a lack of time in 2021.

State agencies are preparing to begin voluntarily collecting data on LGBTQ individuals across the state, Martinez said. Martinez said he hopes all agencies are asking the public, through state forms, for the voluntary data collection by August 2023.

It will take some time after that before the data is robust enough to become reportable. Martinez said that if the state begins the voluntary data collection in August 2023, the data would likely be available to the public by late 2024 or early 2025.

But, after Lujan Grisham terms out of office in 2026, the next governor has no obligation to continue the executive order. The legislation is important because it would enshrine data collection into law, Martinez said.

Martinez and Lawyer have both spoken in the past about the need for more information about LGBTQ individuals in New Mexico. The voluntary collection of data often reinforces what many in the LGBTQ community already know anecdotally, Martinez has said.

Hamblen will also sponsor this bill.

“Many state agencies and local organizations have not included data collection for the LBGTQ community and this leads to a void in understanding what services members of that community need. By moving this from an Executive Order by the Governor to actual statute will ensure that members of the LGBTQ community, who can voluntarily disclose their information, are recognized for state programs and services that they deserve,” Hamblen said by email.