Legislative Update

June 24, 2003

The New Mexico Human Rights Commission

Last Monday the Senate Rules Committee met in Santa Fe to consider Governor Richardson's appointees to the Human Rights Commission. The commission hears complaints from New Mexico citizens who claim damages based on some sort of discrimination. One example given by an appointee was that of a case where a radio station manager fired a 72 year-old employee and commented that the man was just too old for the job. The Human Rights Commission ruled in the man's favor and had him granted back pay for his trouble.

Well, the first appointee to appear before the Senate Rules Committee last week was a 57 year-old man from Alamogordo. His hair was coiffed in the style of a middle aged lady, he wore women's jewelry, earrings, lipstick, makeup and of course a dress---with purse and matching shoes. He was a self-proclaimed cross dresser.

He also happened to be extremely articulate and well-informed. I found this out when no one seemed to have any questions and I decided to ask him about the role of the Human Rights Commission, its scope and powers. He was thoroughly knowledgeable and I learned a lot about the commission. In fact, as I told him, he probably knew as much about the commission to which he had been appointed as any other appointee to appear before the Rules Committee.

I ended up questioning him for perhaps 20-25 minutes. He thanked me for being able to "tell his story," as he put it. I also asked him a hypothetical question----one I ended up asking all eight appointees:

"Let's say a local New Mexico school board has decided that because very young children are highly impressionable and that the early school years are crucial to a child's development, it is their policy not to have 1st-, 2nd- or 3rd-grade teachers who are in any way "gender-confused." They have decided that young children will not be taught by crossdressers, transgendered individuals, transsexuals, transvestites, homosexuals, or others whose behavior might be confusing in some way to the kids.

Then, let's say, an applicant who falls into one of those categories is denied employment as a teacher at the school. The rejected applicant brings his/her case to the Human Rights Commission. How would you rule?

Well, there was a great deal of explication, but in the final analysis, the gentleman stated that he would have to rule against the school board and in favor of the applicant.

This was not particularly a surprise. I ended up asking all eight appointees the same question. Each one ended up saying he or she would rule against the school board and in favor of the transsexual, transvestite, transgendered person, crossdresser, or homosexual, as the case may be.

The final appointee was a lady from Silver City. After she became the eighth commission appointee to answer the question the same way, I asked her to define "diversity" for me. She said,

"Well, what we have seen here today, senator, is diversity. Look at the appointees to the Human Rights Commission who have appeared today. This is a wonderful example of diversity. I mean, we have had an African-American, we have women, two Native Americans, a crossdresser, a homosexual, an Anglo, and
me, an Anglo woman who was born Jewish. Who am I leaving out?"

"Well maybe, you would want to include the Hispanic appointees," I answered, helpfully.

"Oh, yes, of course, I forgot. Isn't it wonderful. This is diversity in action. The governor has done a magnificent job of achieving diversity on this board. It reflects New Mexico and it means everyone has a

"So diversity is achieved mainly based on the racial and ethnic makeup of a given board or commission?" I asked. "When you get representation from racial, ethnic and sexual behavior groups, you are achieving the goal of 'diversity?' " .

"Yes, diversity means giving a chance for all these voices to be heard. And this commission allows for that because of the diversity of our membership."

"What about diversity of thought?" I asked. "What about diversity in ideas, in intellect, in thinking, what about the diversity of opinion, or of philosophy?" Isn't that a part of real diversity? Isn't there something to diversity other than mere racial, ethnic and sexual behavior categories? Isn't there an intellectual
component to it?"

"I don't exactly see where you are going with this."

"Well," I said, "While you all represent these 'diverse' ethnic and racial and sexual groups, interestingly, you all think exactly the same. I mean you gave exactly the same answers to the hypothetical question I posed. To me, true diversity means much much more than checking blocks on a census form. It has to include room for something outside of mere racial, ethnic and sexual categories. You can have perfect 'diversity' by that definition, but if all appointees are all marching in lockstep on each question posed, it would suggest something well short of real diversity."

"Oh, I see, she said. I see your point. I hadn't thought along those lines. That's very interesting to look at it that way."

"Thank you madam chair and members of the committee," I said.

I voted for all of the nominees. They are qualified. They are the governor's choices. But we do not have diversity.