A bill that makes it easier for transgender and non-binary New Mexicans to match their birth certificate to their gender identity has successfully passed through the House and the Senate and now heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for final approval. The bill will also create a new label, “X,” on birth certificates to reflect a non-binary identity.

I believe that our current governor is a great champion for the LGBTQ community and trans people and we have great faith that she’s gonna sign it,” says Adrien Lawyer, co-founder of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. The organization collaborated with Equality New Mexico in drafting the legislation.

In an email received by SFR late Wednesday night, Gov. Lujan Grisham’s office confirms that she will sign the bill into law.

New Mexicans already have the option to change their gender on their driver’s licenses with a document that provides personal testimony and the signature of a health care provider, such as a primary care provider or a therapist. However, pursuing gender changes on birth certificates has until now required proof of gender reassignment surgery. Advocates say proof of surgery is prohibitive to the majority of transgender individuals, and having mismatched gender markers on various forms of legal documentation can cause significant problems in receiving legal services and medical care.

Once the new bill becomes law, proof of surgery will no longer be required.

For people within the transgender community, this change is huge. “Not all transgender people want surgery, not all transgender people who want surgery can get surgery for health reasons, and for many people the costs are also extremely prohibitive. And so taking that away and just requiring a medical provider to approve it is really fantastic,” says Jess Clark, who works in transgender advocacy as the education and prevention department manager at the Solace Treatment Center in Santa Fe.

For people whose gender matches their identity documents, that M or the F on the identity document isn’t a big deal; but for those of us whose genders are different than the M or the F on our identity documents, it has tremendous impact in so many areas, whether it’s health care or education or getting a job or even just going out for a drink,” Clark tells SFR, explaining that mismatched gender markers on personal documentation can lead to discrimination and even violence.

For some, that makes flashing an ID in any scenario an experience riddled with  anxiety and fear of hostility. “It really creates an unsafe situation for me, because not a lot of people have any practical training in dealing with trans people,” says local artist and activist Anastasio Wrobel.
Santa Fean Twig Delujé describes the experience as a general sense of foreboding and tension hanging over the mundane interactions of everyday life that most people take for granted. He says that the feeling is tied to constantly having to prove the validity of his identity to strangers. “You get to just exist and lead your life without having to prove your personhood to every random individual you meet,” he says. “Why don’t I?”
According to a report by US Trans Survey, the organization with the most extensive body of available data about the US trans population, “37 percent of respondents in New Mexico who have shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted.” And as Lawyer of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico points out, this experience is compounded and amplified for trans people of color who already experience racial violence and discrimination.
“Transgender people don’t experience violence and discrimination equally across the board. What we see is that it’s very intersectional. … At our drop-in center in Albuquerque, we mostly serve young trans women who are Latina or Native American,” he says, explaining that in New Mexico, these are the demographics within the trans community who are most likely to experience violence or be in unstable situations. That’s due to a variety of social factors such as homophobia and transphobia as well as poverty, sexism and racism, Lawyer says. These are the people who will also likely see the greatest positive impact in being able to easily change their documentation.
All of the people SFR spoke to for the story agree that the bill, once signed into law, will mark a tremendous victory, but they also all say that it is only part of the solution, and there is still a lot of work to be done.
Clark stresses the importance of education about gender and sexuality in schools. Lawyer says that medical access and support for trans students throughout New Mexico remains pressing. Indeed, 26 percent of New Mexican respondents to the US Trans Survey who were publicly out as trans between kindergarten and grade 12 say that they were physically attacked, and 23 percent say that they were sexually assaulted because of being transgender. For both Clark and Lawyer, making schools safe for trans youth and passing trans-positive policies in school districts across the state are urgent priorities.
Wrobel adds that Santa Fe does not have a homeless shelter that is safe for trans people and has not done much to enforce municipal gender neutral bathroom laws.
“This bill is a win,” Wrobel says, “but we still need to pay attention to the bigger picture.”