The Supreme Court shocked many of us today when, in a six-three vote, the conservative-leaning bench declared that federal law prohibits job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. The Supreme Court essentially held up a long-established precedent: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 included Title VII, a provision that declared it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee based on their sex, but since 2016, the question of whether Title VII covers gender identity has been debates in lower courts. Aimee Stephens, who was fired from a Michigan funeral home for being transgender; Gerald Bostock, who was fired from a county job in Georgia; and Donald Zarda, who was fired from his job in New York as a skydiver, were the plaintiffs in the cases. In a surprising twist, the Supreme Court decided that Title VII has always covered gender identity, meaning that it’s illegal to terminate a trans person’s employment because they’re trans.
Given that the Trump administration has made no secret of its goal to create a conservative majority in SCOTUS, today’s outcome is made more remarkable by the fact that its majority opinion was written by Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch. “An employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Gorsuch wrote in his opinion. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” This is a noteworthy victory for a number of reasons: A 2019 analysis by the Associated Press found that most states don’t have laws specifically protecting LGBTQ workers; at the time of its publication, the study noted that 28 states have no laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ workers from being fired or discriminated against for their identities.
We can only hope that the Supreme Court ruling will effectively end discrimination against LGBTQ employees—though, of course, there are no guarantees. Bostock, the only surviving member of the three plaintiffs, expressed his excitement about the ruling and what it means for LGBTQ employees. “Homophobia and transphobia are wrong, as I said from the beginning, and any type of workplace discrimination is unacceptable,” Bostock told the Daily Beast. “To hear the opinion read this morning validates what I’ve been saying for the last seven years. I am elated and thrilled.” Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden called the ruling “a momentous step forward for our country” and said it “confirmed the simple but profoundly American idea that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity, that everyone should be able to live openly, proudly, as their true selves without fear.” Still, the fight isn’t over. There’s much more work to do, and here’s where we can start.
- The Trump administration attempted to argue that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act didn’t include gender identity and sexual orientation. On June 15, SCOTUS rejected that argument, electing to protect LGBTQ employees instead. [CNN]
- Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion; justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito Jr. wrote separate dissents. [MSNBC, Law.com]
- This was the first LGBTQ–focused case before the court since Justice Anthony M. Kennedy retired in 2018. [New York Times]
- The decision was based on two cases from Bostock and Zarda, who are both gay men. [Associated Press]
- Stephens was the plaintiff for the second case, which specifically brought employment protections for trans people to the Supreme Court. In October 2019, journalist Katelyn Burns interviewed Stephens about the potential impact of the case. [Vox]
- The decision came one day after thousands of protesters came together in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and other cities across the United States to demand better protections for trans people and voice their support for Black trans people. [CNN]
- However, the Trump administration rolled back protections for trans patients last week, which only exacerbates already-existing healthcare discrimination. [New York Times]
- Though Stephens didn’t live to see this ruling, her sacrifices haven’t gone unnoticed. [New Yorker]
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW
Recognize that, while trans people can no longer be fired for being trans, they still face discrimination in the hiring process. Organizations like the Trans Employment Program work to create inclusive workspaces and jobs for trans and gender nonconforming people. It’s the first city-funded program doing this work. [Trans Employment Program]
Continue to donate to organizations that support trans people, especially Black trans people, who face discrimination and violence at higher rates. [Vice]
Learn about the public comment process that happens any time the federal government tries to change a federal protection. Join the email list of civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) and submit a federal comment when there’s an alert about LGBTQ rights being at stake. [Boundless]
- Does your state offer protections for LGBTQ folks? If not, contact your state governor and state legislators and demand that they implement more protections. [Movement Advancement Project]
- Many trans and queer people don’t have full-time employment, and contract workers and freelancers aren’t covered under these protectons. Call your senator and tell them to vote for the Equality Act, which would provide sweeping federal protections in employment, housing, and education for LGBTQ folks. [Human Rights Campaign]
- The next president will be responsible for shaping what the future Supreme Court looks like for years to come. On the local level, your city, county, and state elected officials can also sign LGBTQ protections into place for your community. If you’re eligible, register to vote and vote in any upcoming elections—including the presidential election in November. [Vote.gov]
- Donate to the Black Trans Travel Fund, a mutual-aid based organization developed for the purpose of providing Black transgender women with the financial resources needed to access travel options that mitigate their vulnerability to verbal harassment or physical harm. [Black Trans Travel Fund]
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