SANTA FE — Legislation introduced Thursday at the Capitol aims to expand legal protections for transgender students and others in New Mexico — setting the stage for a legislative debate this year over LGBTQ rights.
The proposal, House Bill 207, would prohibit school districts, government agencies and public contractors from discriminating on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, among other categories, when providing services.
The measure comes as lawmakers in neighboring Texas, Arizona and a host of other states propose bills to restrict, not expand, transgender rights. The American Civil Liberties Union contends more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed throughout the United States.
Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, an advocacy group, said the legislation introduced Thursday is vital in a climate of increased hostility toward LGBTQ individuals.
“As somebody who was born and raised here,” he told the Journal, “I think now is the most critical time to say to people here and across the country that hatred and bigotry have never been our values.”
The New Mexico legislation, he said, would close a loophole in state law that permits discrimination by public agencies in some circumstances.
The state protections, Martinez said, go beyond what’s in federal law.
The legislation would add gender to the list of protected classes in the state Human Rights Act, in addition to revising some definitions.
The heart of the bill is a section declaring it illegal for government agencies and groups that receive public funds to limit or put conditions on the provision of services to people in certain protected classes.
Discrimination, for example, would be prohibited based on race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.
The sponsors of the legislation include Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, Sen. Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces, Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe and Rep. Kristina Ortez of Taos, all Democrats.
“This is a discussion that’s happening across the country and needs to happen here to make sure there’s a level playing field and respect for everyone,” Wirth said Thursday.
The introduction of the Human Rights Act legislation in New Mexico sets the Roundhouse up for a much different debate than in nearby states.
In Texas, for example, legislation has been filed that would add gender-affirming health care for minors to the definition of abuse. A year ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed a state agency to investigate reports of gender-affirming care for kids as abuse.
In Arizona, legislation would prohibit drag shows on public property or any location where they could be viewed by a minor.
A proposal in New Mexico two years ago called for restricting trans participation in school sports, but it didn’t advance out of its first committee.