On Thursday, the first openly transgender person to seek a New Mexico legislative seat, Bunnie Benton Cruse, announced her intent to replace Rep. Melanie Stansbury for the state House. Stansbury is the Democratic nominee in the June 1 special election for the state’s 1st Congressional District, a seat Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland vacated when she left the U.S. House of Representatives to take the federal position. Benton Cruse will apply to the Bernalillo County Commission, which will decide who to appoint to HD 28 if Stansbury wins June 1 and leaves the seat. Benton Cruse said she went public with her intention to apply for the HD 28 seat before the June 1 special election because she believes Stansbury will win. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called Benton Cruse’s decision to seek Stansbury’s seat “historic.”
With six openly queer legislators participating in the 2021 New Mexico legislative session, many in the LGBTQ community said this past session was important in the advancement of equal rights. But also, legislation that would repeal the state’s ban on abortion, remove qualified immunity as a legal defense and enable individuals whose civil rights have been violated to seek financial remedy through the courts and require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees are major highlights for the LGBTQ community as well as the reproductive justice community because the two intersect. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which made the changes on qualified immunity, and the Healthy Workplaces Act, which imposes the paid sick leave requirement, passed both chambers but await Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s signature. Lujan Grisham has already signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, on abortion, into law after it passed both chambers in February. Related: Governor signs bill repealing abortion ban into law: ‘a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body’
But there were other moments, such as an informal “gay pride night” in the state Senate, when two bills sponsored by openly queer Senators passed in mid-March, that were noted by members of the LGBTQ community.
With only a little more than a month left to fill out the 2020 U.S. census, some groups that have been historically forgotten could go under counted again. Adrien Lawyer, co-founder of Albuquerque-based Transgender Resource Center, told NM Political Report said that even the best available data on the transgender communities across the country are largely undercounting the communities. The U.S. census doesn’t ask questions about gender orientation or identity. Lawyer said the transgender community is again in danger of being undercounted with this census as it has been in previous census data gatherings. The best available data on the size of the community in either the U.S. or New Mexico comes from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law Williams Institute, which is a research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule that critics say would enable shelters to discriminate against transgender people and lawfully turn people away who need a place to sleep for the night. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed the rule in early July and allowed for a 60-day comment period. The rule, if promulgated, would affect shelters that receive federal funds and are single sex dormitories or segregate into single sex areas. Under the proposed rule, shelter providers can turn people away if their gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were classified as at birth. Albuquerque’s West Side Shelter receives federal funding and has single-sex areas.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday protecting LGBTQ from workplace discrimination “further enshrines” protections New Mexico already put in place, said Adrian N. Carver. Carver, executive director of the nonprofit Equality New Mexico, said the state passed laws in 2003 and 2019 that protects most workers who identify as LGBTQ from workplace discrimination. But, he said, that doesn’t always mean people are genuinely protected. “Legal equality is very different from lived equality,” Carver said. Susan Powers, a transgender woman living in Albuquerque, agreed and said she lost two jobs because she came out.
Dozens of emails sent to Albuquerque school board members opposing a proposed change in rights for transgender students appear to have come from the same source. Last month, Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member Peggy Muller-Aragon publicly stated her opposition to a school directive expanding rights for transgender students. After arguing that some parents may not be comfortable with their children sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with transgender students, Muller-Aragon said she received hundreds of emails from constituents who didn’t want to see the directive go forward. In fact, Muller-Aragon received close to 100 emails about the matter on her public school board account, according to records obtained by NM Political Report. Most of these appeared to copy language from an email from one source—a local Republican Party official
The proposed directive, for which the school board heard public comment last month, would comply with a section of federal law affirming rights for transgender students in public schools.
After an hour of passionate public comment on transgender rights, a Wednesday Albuquerque Public School Board of Education meeting ended with the district’s superintendent requesting further work. A majority of public comment was regarding whether transgender students’ rights should be protected under a federal law that also protects students rights based on gender. The Department of Education said in 2014 the law, known as Title IX, included protections on the basis of gender identity. Board member Peggy Muller-Aragón who was the only member who spoke against the measure, said she had received hundreds of emails in opposition. “The loudest side is not always the right side,” she said of the large number of people who spoke in favor of the measure.
The Pentagon is considering ending a ban on transgender people from serving in the armed forces. The White House has pushed for an end to the ban, the latest in a move to open the military to more who wish to serve. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy that forbid openly gay members of the military. New Mexico Political Report spoke to Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRCNM) executive director and co-founder Adrien Lawyer earlier this year about issues in the transgender community. New Mexico Political Report again reached out to Lawyer, this time about the Pentagon push for acceptance of transgender members.
Adrien Lawyer is the executive director and co-founder of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRCNM), which describes itself as a “clearinghouse for resources.”
Lawyer and his professional partner started TGRCNM in 2008, but the center didn’t move into a physical building until 2012. Lawyer and the center advocate for transgender people through education and services that range from health screenings to navigating through name changes. TGRCNM pushed to change policies at the Motor Vehicle Division on gender designations on identification cards and driver’s licenses. As part of the education outreach, Lawyer travels around New Mexico to educate the public with his Trans 101 presentation, which he estimates he has shown at least 500 times. Ahead of the Albuquerque Pride Parade taking place on Saturday, New Mexico Political Report spoke with Lawyer about a variety of topics, including attending his first Pride event 20 years ago as a “butch lesbian,” how the event has changed over the years and, yes, Caitlyn Jenner.