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Helen Lockett

Transgender rights have rocketed into public awareness over the last couple of years, with highly publicized, nationwide debates surrounding everything from the targeting and abuse of transgender immigrants in detention, to bathrooms and the right of transgender people to “pee in peace”. Here in New Mexico, there’s some good news. The Gender-Free Restrooms Act becomes effective on July 1st, 2019, requiring single-occupancy stalls to be made accessible regardless of gender identity. And at the end of March, Governor Lujan Grisham signed a new law enabling New Mexicans to change their gender designation to “non-binary” on their birth certificates with an X, instead of with an M or an F—a law that came into effect on June 15th, 2019. There’s more: no longer do transgender people need to show proof of surgery to change their name or gender marker. That means that following the passage of SB0020, trans people need only provide the court order and a physician’s note stating that they “have had clinically appropriate treatment” to correct their birth certificate—no surgery required.

Gender confirmation surgery is invasive, lengthy, and can cost anything up to $100,000—or even more. Many trans individuals don’t want to go through this process, and for many transgender minors, surgery isn’t even an option, as few doctors are willing to perform these kinds of surgeries on someone under the age of 18, if at all. With this change in the law, transgender and nonbinary youth can see their gender identity reflected on their birth certificates without needing to commit to surgery first; a form of validation that can have a practical impact from the outset, giving them access to sports clubs and other organizations that require an updated birth certificate for trans people to participate in activities divided along gender lines.

There’s still a long way to go. Transgender and nonbinary folks face a disproportionately high risk of police violence, incarceration, housing and employment discrimination, and sexual abuse and other violence. We’d like to see the requirement for a physician’s declaration removed altogether to allow trans and nonbinary folks to change their name and gender-markers with a self-attestation. But with this law, New Mexico is taking steps in the right direction.