LGBTQ+ rights are at stake

As of Oct. 8, the Supreme Court reviewed three cases that will decide whether employers can legally discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. All of the cases stem from LGBTQ+ people who have lost their jobs because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and depending on the Court’s eventual decision, this kind of issue could keep arising without any legal boundary to stop it. Being aware of what these cases are and what their implications are is crucial to being an active member of our democracy.


R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC originally began when Aimee Stephens was fired from a family-owned funeral home in Detroit that she had worked at for six years after writing a coming-out letter to her employer explaining she would be presenting herself as a woman in the workplace, according to CNN. Stephens then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the case went through a district court, which claimed that Title VII did not protect transgender people from discrimination. 


The EEOC appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals who ruled in Stephens’ favor, and then the funeral home representatives, coming from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), requested that the Supreme Court hear the case. The ADF claims that Harris Funeral Homes fired Stephens based on her “[violation] of the company’s sex-specific dress code.” If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the ADF, not only will “sex” not encompass gender identify, but employers will be able to discriminate against any employee for not adhering to gender stereotypes.


In regards to the case, Stephens supplied The New York Times with a specific line from the letter which stated, “I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind. And this has caused me great despair and loneliness. With the support of my loving wife, I have decided to become the person that my mind already is.”


Meanwhile, SCOTUSblog has stated that Altitude Inc. v. Zarda the Court will determine whether employment discrimination laws apply to gay, lesbian and bisexual employees. In this case, skydiving company Altitude Express fired Donald Zarda because he was gay. Originally, Zarda went to a federal court but was told Title VII did not apply to sexual orientation. Upon appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the previous holding, saying sexual orientation “is a subset of sex discrimination.” Altitude Express then brought the case forward to the Supreme Court. 


In a similar vein, in Bostock v. Clayton Country, the Georgia case also reached the Supreme Court. According to SCOTUSblog, Gerald Bostock worked as a child welfare services coordinator, and Clayton County accused him of mismanaging public money to fire him when in actuality, they fired him based on his sexuality. Clayton Country initially argued that Title VII did not apply to sexual orientation and managed to get the case dismissed on federal and appellate levels.


The decisions made in each case will have a profound impact on who has a right to make a living in the U.S. If the Supreme Court defines “sex” as separate from sexual orientation and gender identity, it will set a precedent for legal discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, and because of the nature of gender, transgender individuals may be at even further risk.

Photo: Y. Hornung

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