New Mexico ranks high when it comes to favorable laws and policies that drive equality for LGBTQ people, according to the Transgender Law Center, which tracks existing laws in each U.S. state and territory.
Many neighboring states don’t rank as high though. In fact, recent bills and laws in Texas and Arizona, along with messaging from some national groups, have trans rights advocates worried about New Mexico’s future.
In 2021, lawmakers in Texas introduced more than 40 bills that targeted trans and nonbinary youth.
In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive instructing the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the parents of any child who undergoes gender-affirming medical care, something Abbott has equated to child abuse.
The directive instigated legal battles, but on May 13, in a unanimous ruling, the Texas Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s injunction. The decision cleared the way for the state child welfare agency to resume investigating parents and doctors who provide trans kids with hormone therapies.
Lawmakers in Arizona, meanwhile, passed a similar bill that bans gender-affirming care, along with a bill called the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” which prohibits trans athletes from competing on women’s and girls’ teams at all public schools.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed both bills into law in late March, with his office calling the bills “common-sense legislation” that he claims will “maintain fairness in school athletics.”
New Mexico is on a very different track than its neighbors, according to Adrien Lawyer, the executive director and co-founder of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. However, Lawyer said the state hasn’t been immune to the introduction of anti-trans legislation. “We did see an anti-trans student athlete bill crop up in the ’21 session, but we were able to quickly put it down in committee,” Lawyer said.
The bill, called the “Women’s Sports Protection Act,” or House Bill 304, was eerily similar to the Arizona law and sought to ban trans athletes from competing in sports as the gender they identify with, instead of forcing them to compete as the gender they were assigned at birth.
The bill headed to the committee mentioned by Lawyer on Feb. 8, 2021, but was never formally adopted. And while no similar bills were introduced during the 2022 legislative session, Lawyer said the actions by lawmakers in nearby states do concern him.
He’s also concerned with the U.S. Supreme Court’s apparent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, fearing it paves the way for other rights to be taken away, too.
“I’m deeply concerned. I think that’s part of the current GOP’s crafted agenda … the opinion that got leaked about overturning Row, it looks like the perfect setup to then come after (LGBTQ rights),” he said. “They are laying the path work. And (the legalization of) gay marriage was in 2013, right? If we’re going back 50 years to take away Row, then gay marriage starts to seem very tenuous.”
Under the heading of “Family,” the Republican Party of New Mexico’s website states that a part of its platform is supporting “a Constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.”
In an email, Delaney Corcoran, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of New Mexico called the Republican party’s stance, in part, “homophobic” and “out of touch.”
“The New Mexico Republican Party’s platform is contrary to New Mexico’s history as a diverse and welcoming state,” Corcoran wrote.
Maddy Hayden, a spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in an email that the governor has long supported rights for those in the LGBTQ community.
“New Mexico is a state proud of its diversity, and the governor will continue to advocate and stand up for the rights of the trans community — especially in the face of anti-trans laws being proliferated around the country,” Hayden wrote.
Hayden cited Lujan Grisham’s signing of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act and signing the Safe Schools for All Students Act, which requires schools to implement anti-bullying policies that protect all students, including those who identify as LGBTQ.
Lujan Grisham also signed legislation that allows New Mexicans to change their gender designation on official documents, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses.
Still, for all of the protections put in place by Lujan Grisham and state legislators, Lawyer said he’s still concerned about anti-trans legislation, particularly because when it does appear in New Mexico, the wording tends to mimic language used in similar bills in other parts of the country.
“Those bills are being centrally drafted, then disseminated around the country,” he said. “It’s become a national strategy to make trans children a political wedge issue.”
In one example, Lawyer said scare tactics are often used within youth sports that are meant to cause fear that transgender kids will take opportunities from cisgender children.
The tactic works to a degree, Lawyer said, because many people don’t understand what it means to be trans, something he equates to how homosexuality was viewed in the 1980s.
“In 1985, they probably could have had a bill to ban lesbians from sports,” he said. “But imagine if, in 2022, there had been a bill introduced to the New Mexico State Legislature seeking to ban lesbians from girls’ sports. People would’ve lost their shit.”
And though the tactic is being used with some success by those who wish to restrict the rights of trans-New Mexicans, according to Lawyer, it’s a matter of time before it stops working.
“Someday it won’t work,” he said. “Someday there will be so much education, and awareness and personal relationships that it just won’t work.”