A Roosevelt County commissioner is seeking signatures from county residents to help halt a Senate bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The law applies to both private and public businesses.
At Tuesday’s Roosevelt County Commission meeting, Commissioner Gene Creighton spoke adamantly against Senate Bill 28 — signed this year by Gov. Bill Richardson — claiming the bill is riddled with shortcomings.
A man dressing like a woman cannot be discriminated against, even if his physical characteristics are male, a stipulation that safeguards cross dressers and those who have undergone sex changes, as well as homosexuals, the law states.
For example, Creighton said the new law would allow male public school teachers to come to work garnished in lipstick, dresses and high heels.
“Even if the school board has dress codes prohibiting men from wearing dresses in school and a teacher is fired for doing so, that person could file a lawsuit based on the interpretation of this bill, which doesn’t allow for discrimination on gender identity,” Creighton said.
Petitions against the bill have already circulated in the Roosevelt and Curry counties.
Gay and lesbian rights activists claim the bill is necessary to eradicate basic prejudices against homosexuals, cross dressers and transvestites.
“The real issue is that this is an anti-gay sentiment brought by religious zealots who are afraid of equal rights of all people; it’s only equal rights for people they understand,” said Gloria Nieto, the director of People of Color Aids Foundation in Santa Fe. She is a lobbyist for Senate Bill 28.
“Everybody has a right to earn a living, it’s a basic American value,” Nieto said.
The bill goes into affect on July 1, but many in the state are attempting to block the bill via a registered voters referendum.
To obtain a referendum to decide the bill’s fate at least 10 percent of the state’s registered voters must sign a petition, including at least 10 percent from 75 percent of the counties in the state. This criteria prevents one large county from carrying the state-wide minimum on its own. This process must be complete four months prior to November 2004, the month set for the next general election.
If accomplished, the bill will appear on ballots for voters to decide its fate.
Roosevelt Commissioners Tom Clark and Dennis Lopez discussed the bill and were concerned, but didn’t exhibit any strong-willed opinions on the matter.
Lopez did say he would feel uneasy if his 6-year-old daughter had a male teacher who wore a dress.
“I think that would confuse her,” Lopez said. “I’d consider myself pretty liberal, and an advocate for civil rights, but I believe with gender identity in a classroom where a male wears a dress, well, that would be confusing and a little extreme especially in a small, rural community.”
The last bill to carry a referendum successfully in New Mexico was in the 1930s, but thanks to political steam from religious groups and political leaders that could change with this bill.
“A lot of the groups against this bill are religious who have doctrinal problems with gay people to start with, and one thing I’ve heard is that there are some church folks involved in getting signatures,” said Denise Lamb, the state election director.
Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said her problem with the bill is not based on religious values, but on perception, in the sense that people are only perceived to be homosexual could lash out against former employers with lawsuits if fired for legitimate reasons.
The bill gives gays and or those perceived gay an edge over regular workers in the sense that any “homosexual” fired from a position could claim discrimination.
Cook voted against the bill.
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he voted against the bill because he heard overwhelming opposition from his constituents, roughly 60 opposing for every person for it. The bill has come before the Legislature for the past 12 years and this is the first time it has passed, Ingle added.
Ingle, the senate minority leader, said he doesn’t consider gays and lesbians in the same category as minorities.
“I’m against it; I don’t feel one’s sexual orientation is something that is discriminated against like it can be with minorities,” Ingle said.