Equality New Mexico celebrates 30 years, looks ahead

Equality New Mexico, a non-profit organization that champions the state’s LGBTQ community, is celebrating its 30th anniversaryth anniversary of its founding this year.

EQNM executive director Marshall Martinez said the organization is planning a launch party in Santa Fe during the legislative session and will continue celebrating throughout the year.

While the year-long celebrations will be merry, EQNM began in 1993 in a very different climate. Martinez said EQNM arose in response to the HIV crisis that was still raging through the LGBTQ community.

“People died in large numbers,” he said.

Martinez said LGBTQ activists are realizing the issue isn’t “necessarily finance or medicine.”

“That wasn’t the main problem. That was discrimination,” he said.

Martinez said discrimination is rampant in both healthcare and government, which is “at the heart of the AIDS crisis.”

As early as 1991, in response to the HIV crisis, a group of individuals banded together to change the New Mexico Human Rights Act. Martinez said the goal of the activists is to amend the Human Rights Act to include the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“That bill wasn’t even heard in committee,” Martinez said.

Within two more years, the same people formed the coalition to formalize the movement for this work, Martinez said.

“It started very small and grew quickly,” Martinez said.

He said there are Jewish organizations, African American organizations, and youth-oriented groups that have joined the coalition. But the Legislature didn’t pass legislation amending the New Mexico Human Rights Act to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity until 2003, Martinez said.

During that 10-year effort, the coalition also pushed for passage of a hate crimes law in New Mexico. That bill also passed the legislature in 2003, Martinez said.

Martinez attributes the shift in the political climate to organizing, with elected officials hearing repeatedly about the importance of changing human rights law.

Martinez said that after 2003 the organization grew and formed two separate entities, one side focused on policy work and policy change and the other side focused on education and culture change. He said the growth is necessary because passage of these two bills for LGBTQ protection is insufficient.

By 2009, the LGBTQ community had started talking about relationship recognition across the country, Martinez said. Some states had legalized same-sex marriage, while some other states allowed registered partnerships and recognized domestic partnerships. Equality New Mexico began organizing a campaign that included television advertising and lobbying for members of the Legislature.

When the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2013, EQNM’s cultural and political work had transformed the dialogue so that there wasn’t a “firestorm of backlash,” Martinez said.

Since 2013, EQNM has focused on a three-pronged approach of system change, culture change and policy change, Martinez said, and with five full-time employees and five contract workers, EQNM has the largest workforce ever. Martinez said that as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations, EQNM will “double down to be truly nationwide.” With that in mind, EQNM will focus on hosting events and supporting other LGBTQ organizations in places like Southeast New Mexico, Roswell and Las Vegas.

“We want to make sure people know we’re not just Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces. We’re getting off I-25,” he said.

Some of EQNM’s longer-term goals are system changes in areas like healthcare systems, legal systems, and criminal justice systems, since those systems “were built without us,” Martinez said.

An example of this is when an insurance provider receives a bill from a provider for a long-acting reversible contraceptive such as an IUD, but the patient is transgender, the insurance company will not cover the cost if the patient is male.

“We’re looking at how the system was built without harm being done to us. How to reform or rebuild these systems so they no longer harm us,” he said.