Equality New Mexico, a nonprofit that advocates for the state’s LGBTQ community, celebrates the 30th anniversary of its founding this year.
Marshall Martinez, executive director of EQNM, said the organization plans a kickoff party in Santa Fe during the legislative session and will continue to celebrate throughout the year.
While the year-long festivities will be joyful, EQNM got its start in 1993 in a very different climate. Martinez said EQNM formed in response to the HIV crisis, which was still roiling through the LGBTQ community.
“People were dying in massive numbers,” he said.
Martinez said that LGBTQ activists recognized the problem wasn’t “necessarily finance or medicine.”
“That wasn’t the root problem. It was discrimination,” he said.
Martinez said the discrimination was rampant in both health care and in government, which was “at the core of the AIDS crisis.”
As a response to the HIV crisis, a group of individuals came together with the goal of amending the New Mexico Human Rights Act as early as 1991. Martinez said the activists’ goal was to amend the Human Rights Act to incorporate the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“That bill didn’t even get heard in committee,” Martinez said.
So within two more years, the same individuals formed the coalition to formalize the movement for that work, Martinez said.
“It started very small and grew rapidly,” Martinez said.
He said there were Jewish organizations, African-American organizations and youth-focused groups who joined the coalition. But the Legislature did not pass a bill to amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity until 2003, Martinez said.
During that 10-year effort, the coalition also pushed for the passage of a hate crime law in New Mexico. That bill also passed the Legislature in 2003, Martinez said.
Martinez attributes the change in political climate with the work of organizing so that elected officials were hearing about the importance of amending the Human Rights Act repeatedly.
Martinez said that after 2003, the organization grew and formed two separate entities with one side focused on political work and policy change and the other side directed toward education and culture change. He said the growth was necessary because the passage of those two bills were inadequate for LGBTQ protections.
By 2009 the LGBTQ community had begun talking about relationship recognition across the country, Martinez said. A few states had legalized same-sex marriage while a few other states allowed civil unions and recognized domestic partnerships. Equality New Mexico began organizing a campaign that included TV ads and lobbied members of the Legislature.
By the time the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2013, EQNM’s culture and policy work had changed the dialogue so that there was not “a fire storm of backlash,” Martinez said.
Since 2013, EQNM has been focused on a three-prong approach of systems change, culture change and policy change, Martinez said and with five full-time employees and five contract workers, EQNM has the largest employed staff it has ever had. Martinez said that as part of its celebration of 30 years, EQNM will be “doubling down on being truly statewide.” With that in mind, EQNM will be focusing on creating events and supporting other LGBTQ organizations in places such as Southeast New Mexico, Roswell and Las Vegas.
“We want to make sure folks know that we are not Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces only. We will get off I-25,” he said.
Some of EQNM’s longer term goals are systems change in things such as health care systems, legal systems and criminal justice systems because those systems “were built without us,” Martinez said.
One example of that is if an insurance provider receives a bill from a provider for a Long-Acting Reversible Contraception such as an IUD, but the patient is transgender, the insurance company won’t cover the cost if the patient is a man.
“We’re looking in terms of how the system was built without us resulted in harm to us. How to reform or rebuild those systems so they’re not harmful to us anymore,” he said.