What do Santa Fe’s three mayoral candidates think about issues affecting lesbian, gay, transgender and queer youth, and all youth in Santa Fe? Generation Next writer and Santa Fe Human Rights Alliance intern Emma Meyers sat down this month with each of the candidates to find out. The questions were developed in collaboration with the Santa Fe Human Rights Alliance, and answers were edited for length. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Question: Do you believe there is a shortage of young people in Santa Fe?
Mayor Alan Webber: I think Santa Fe is growing younger. I think we’re on a very constructive path toward being a place where younger people can live and work and find ways to get engaged. We are a little bit behind the curve in terms of the attributes, amenities, that young people look to to see if the city really does welcome them and want their participation.
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler: I’m not sure if there’s a shortage, but I do know that we are not keeping our young people here, and it’s important that we do. Young people are our future. I’ve always been concerned that there’s not enough housing; if people want to move out of their parents' home, there may not be a place for them to live. I’m concerned there’s not enough to do here. … That’s certainly a focus of mine: what we offer as a city, that we keep things well maintained. … The focus for me is the young people that we do have. I think we need to work towards gainfully employing them.
Candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson: I think there is not a shortage of youth, if you’re talking about under 18. There are a lot of youth in our community. … There are not enough opportunities that I would consider adequate as far as facilities, parks and recreation. They are not at the level I would like, and as mayor I would look to make a priority of youth services throughout the entire city, not just certain areas.
Question: Santa Fe takes a lot of pride in being a very LGBTQ-friendly city; what do you think it’s like being a queer kid here? What added adversities do we face? What are our options as far as support?
Webber: It’s presumptuous for me to think that I can speak for someone who is gay or queer … I haven’t lived that life. ... Most people’s lives, who are minorities of any kind, there’s always an experience of discrimination. … To the extent that anybody feels that because of their sexual identity or gender, we’re not doing a good enough job.
Vigil Coppler: I have friends who have suffered from some of the things that [LGBTQ kids] have suffered from, not having enough support. I think Santa Fe is a welcoming community. … You can tell me different. I want Santa Fe to be a welcoming community. … If we see or hear that there could be any discrimination, because we do have protections, the city needs to take a strong stance.
Martinez Johnson: I think that there is quite a lot of support here in Santa Fe. I believe that everyone is very open, decent and receptive to everyone in a nondiscriminatory fashion in regard to gender orientation or sexual orientation. … I don’t think I have encountered a situation where people are discriminatory or not supportive of this community.
Question: Sex ed in all New Mexico public schools, including Santa Fe, is not required to be “medically accurate” or “comprehensive.” In the experience of me and my friends, it’s also very centered around the portion of the population that is not LGBTQ, which, speaking from my experience that is considered pretty mild in this area, is pretty damaging for queer kids, as the entire thing is centered around people who are cisgender and heterosexual. Is it possible to make health classes more inclusive?
Webber: When I was your age, years ago, the campaign back then around the gay and lesbian community, primarily, is that silence is death. It still is. And ignorance is death. And isolation is death. Whether schools teach proper sex education or it’s taken up in community dialogues … you cannot make progress without public dialogue, and that’s as true for sex education or sex information as it is about the different experiences that people have.
Vigil Coppler: I’d certainly advocate for that! I know if schools receive federal funds, there are stipulations in those laws to be all-inclusive. Again, I think it’s important that if we hear there is not inclusivity in the health classes offered in our schools, we need to take a stand. … Santa Fe needs to be an equitable community in things such as health care.
Martinez Johnson: I think that is a subject matter that is more relegated to the parents. I really do not think the school is the appropriate area to talk about sexual relations or sexual orientation in whatever capacity that is. Whether you are homosexual, heterosexual. I think that is something a child can speak with their parents about or a trusted family adult. … I think if you’re talking about anatomy and health, skeletal and muscular, I think that’s OK. But if you’re talking about orientation, I think that’s better suited for the family. As adults, it’s a different story, I am all for that type of education.
Question: Outside of the issues that arise from cisgender, heterosexual-centric sex ed, New Mexico also has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Can we make sex ed more accurate if not more inclusive?
Webber: We need to think more and more inclusively about the root causes of some of our social problems, and then solutions that address those root causes. … There’s an enormous issue in New Mexico around poverty as a root cause for a lot of social issues.
Vigil Coppler: If New Mexico is fourth highest in the country, I think it’s certainly a state issue. We’d have to work with the state to see how Santa Fe can help further the goals for education, for health care, adoption rules, any other support that we can give there, we need to give it. In our own city, working with parenting programs, working with the schools. … We need to offer birth control.
Martinez Johnson: I think that, like I said, sexual education should be taught by parents. For teen pregnancy, it’s a huge deal. I think it really starts in the home. We need to focus on the quality of life here in Santa Fe, making sure that children and youth have not only a good education but a good quality of life outside of school. I’m a big promoter of all these areas where children and youth can learn. I am a part of the groups that are underprivileged or socio-economically disadvantaged. I come from being an adopted child in a home living in poverty. Obviously I’m Hispanic, I do have Native American ancestry. And all of those various demographics and levels I’ve described are noted to have a higher level of teen pregnancy. My basic elements that I relied on for success was a stable family unit. A stable family unit is key. … A stable family unit can represent many different groups, you just want to have a home that’s stable.
Question: Santa Fe is split up by socio-economic class, could you talk about any patterns you notice within the economic separation.
Webber: Santa Fe is different from any other place and not different from any other place. In historical and cultural terms, I’ve always compared Santa Fe to the Grand Canyon. If you’ve ever stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looked down, you see striations of color. … America is a very unequal country, it has more aspirations to equality than many places … New Mexico is similar. Los Alamos is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and we have a lot of counties and individuals where there’s a lot of poverty. Santa Fe fits into that profile. … The more we tell the truth and acknowledge it, the more we can address it.
Vigil Coppler: I’m aware the south side seems to be the lower socio-economic area, and the east side is the higher. I live on the south side. I see the differences. I grew up here. I’ve seen the differences. I think they’ve become worse. When I was growing up, it wasn’t as prevalent. Of course, we weren’t as built out as we are now. The socio-economic differences weren’t as prevalent as they are now, and that is one reason I’m running for mayor. I believe Santa Fe should be one city. … Take a look at our landscape. You cross St. Francis Drive, and you clearly see that our city, in terms of its well-taken-care-of-ness, in the streets, in the sidewalks, there’s clearly a difference. My vision is that in the future, we don’t see that difference. That south side and the Airport Road area, the southwest section, look the same as the east side and downtown. By that, I mean everything is manicured, that we have the same maintenance priority as the east side. … We’re very good at helping people succeed, but I don’t think we’re as inclusive on the south side. We need to pay attention. I belong to the Chamber of Commerce. One of my goals as a mayor is going to be [that] anything we do, we have to ask ourselves how are we helping people succeed in business. When businesses succeed, you help families. I’m a product of the south side; I think that’s really important.
Martinez Johnson: As a leader, I think it’s very important that you’re not just coming from one town, from one group. I think it’s important to represent the entire community. You can see as you go down Airport Road, that there is not only a difference in socio-economic levels, but in racial and ethnic makeup. In Santa Fe, there’s lines across the town, between different types of people, and I don’t think that should be the case. When I’m coming into the south side, there’s weeds in the medians, it’s in disrepair. It looks like nobody cares.
Question: New Mexico is the worst state in the country for mental health care, and 1.1 percent of New Mexicans have attempted or died by suicide. Forty-three percent of those were from queer people, but only 4.5 percent of adults in New Mexico are (out as) queer. It's very evident that New Mexico needs to step up mental health care. What can be done within Santa Fe that can hopefully ripple out through New Mexico?
Webber: We simply don’t have the human resources to provide help and care to everyone who needs it. We have a suicide hotline, we have the Sky Center, we have just created, as the city of Santa Fe, something called the Alternative Response Unit, which is made of a social worker, EMT and police officer. The Alternative Response Unit is a very small but important step towards saying being mentally ill isn’t a crime. … Being an addict is a disease. Being homeless is not a crime. The next steps we need to be taking, building on the alternative response unit, is to have more capabilities to see things as they are, and recognize where they should be, how people should be helped. I was talking with our congresswoman, [Teresa] Leger Fernández. I expect there to be more money from the federal government for mental and behavioral health support. The problem is not going to be money, it’s going to be a lack of trained professionals to provide the services. … One of the underlying themes of this conversation is stigma. When you stigmatize something, you make it bad by definition. [Once] we as a society start calling something bad, we don’t give it the attention and the positive support it needs. If you stigmatize mental health, people think it’s bad to get help, they don’t get help. If you stigmatize being a gay or transgender person, being queer, the stigma attaches shame: “I better swallow my identity, rather than being who I am.”
Vigil Coppler: I don’t think we have enough resources. I do know that we as a city contribute to organizations that need money to make their programs more inclusive, and spread their programs among the people that need it. I am in favor of dividing [state] money more towards helping mental health. … We have a bottle of things that are interrelated, and we have to step up and help our mental health agencies and services. I think we need to help with recruiting mental health professionals, you could have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have therapists, psychologists, MDs that can administer medication, you’re not going to get as far as you could get. … It’s our responsibility as a city to help with mental health, to keep people employed, to keep people housed.
Martinez Johnson: We need to do more to help our populous in regard to mental health care. I would like a monthly gathering of groups within the community, nonprofits, either religious or non-religious based associations to provide services for some of the individuals that need assistance. Some people need help and don’t know where to go or don’t know who to ask. But there are people out there, mental health professionals who are willing to step up to the plate. We need to have a mental health coalition in Santa Fe, especially as we keep moving forward in this pandemic.