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The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that existing federal law prohibits job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status, a major victory for gay rights advocates, and the emerging transgender rights movement — a surprising ruling from an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.
By a 6-3 vote, the Court said Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate, among other factors, because of a person’s sex, now also covers sexual orientation and transgender status. It upheld lower court rulings that said discrimination based on sexual orientation was a form of gender discrimination.
Equally surprising was that the decision was drafted by the first Supreme Court appointee of President Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and four more liberal members of the court to form a majority.
Historical Day for Gay and Transgender Rights
“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 different sex”, Gorsuch wrote. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
He said that those who adopted the Civil Rights Act may not have anticipated their work would lead to that particular outcome, but the limits of the imagination of the drafters provide no reason to ignore the demands of the law. He also wrote:
Only the written word is the law and every person is entitled to its benefit.
Twenty-one states across the nation have their own legislation banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Seven others have the protection only for public workers. Those policies remain in effect, but Monday’s decision means the federal law also offers equal protection for LGBTQ employees across the country.
Gay and transgender rights groups considered the case to be highly significant, even more important than the struggle to get the right to marry because, obviously, almost every LGBTQ adult needs to have a job. They conceded that when the civil rights law was passed, sexual orientation was not in the minds of anybody in Congress. However, they said when an employer fires a male employee for dating men, but not a female, that means violating the law.
White House: We Live With The Decision
At a roundtable on senior citizens’ issues at the White House, President Donald Trump called the decision “powerful”, stating that “we live with” it.
“They’ve ruled and we live with their decision. That’s what it’s all about, we live with the decision of the Supreme Court,” he said.
The ruling had been celebrated by gay rights advocates.
As James Esseks, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project at the American Civil Liberties Union explained: The clarification by the Supreme Court that it is unlawful to fire people because they are LGBTQ is the result of decades in which advocates fought for our rights. The court caught up with most of the country that knows that discrimination against LGBTQ people is not only unfair but also violating the law.
“The decision gives us hope that as a country we can unite for the common good and continue the fight for LGBTQ acceptance”, said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s president, and CEO.
Gay rights advocates are not the only ones praising this decision, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calling it “a victory for the LGBTQ community, for our democracy and for our fundamental values of equality and justice for all”.
The probable Democratic presidential candidate and Former Vice President Joe Biden, said the ruling was “a momentous step forward for our country”, adding that the court had “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”.
Whose Victory is it Really?
The ruling was a victory for Gerald Bostock, who had been fired from a county job in Georgia after joining a gay softball team. Donald Zarda’s relatives can also be proud, even though he died before the case reached the Supreme Court. Everyone remembers this instructor who had been fired after telling a female client not to worry about being tightly strapped to him during a jump as he was “100 percent gay”.
Aimee Stephens, who was dismissed from her job at a Michigan funeral home two weeks after she told the company that she was transgender, was involved in the transgender case. She said her boss explained to her that she had been fired for not following the dress code.
“He said, this is not going to work”, reported Stephens. Moreover, she got a letter firing her and giving her hush money to keep her silent.
Stephens didn’t live to see the case resolved. She died on May 12 while receiving kidney disease hospice treatment, but her surviving husband continued the legal battle.
The ACLU told the court that it was a clear case of sex discrimination because if at birth she had been assigned female sex she would not have been fired for wanting to come to work dressed as a woman. Instead, Stephens was assigned male sex and was fired for failing to conform to her employer’s sex stereotypes, it argued.
The funeral home said it is not required for employers to treat men as women.
Fear of Being Fired for Who We Are Is Now Gone
In a release released by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) Bostock said there are no words to explain this feeling, adding that when he was fired seven years ago he felt devastated. He expressed sincere gratitude to the Supreme Court, his lawyers, advocacy organizations, and those who helped him. As he said:
Today, we can go to work without the fear of being fired for who we are and who we love,
Nevertheless. there is more work to be done. Discrimination has no place in this world, and Bostock and HRC will continue fighting until everyone has equal rights.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur, Bostock said the ruling had given him “validation” for what he has been doing for the last seven years, which he said was not easy. He added that he had not only lost his source of income when he lost his job but that he also lost his health insurance at a time when he was struggling with prostate cancer.
Laying the Groundwork
Bostock’s thoughts are that at this time of uncertainty, and dark days with civil unrest happening, this brings a bit of sunshine and hope. He says that he had faith in the system and in the judges, believing that they would do the right thing. This is just a step in laying the groundwork because it underlines that we still have more work to do, given everything that is going on in our country today.
Pelosi and the Human Rights Campaign requested the adoption of House-passed legislation by the Senate called the Equality Act. This act prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, education, and other areas.
What is Sex Discrimination?
The company claimed it is not sex discrimination for an employer to apply a sex-specific dress code or provide sex-specific changing and restroom facilities based on biological sex rather than one’s inner sense of gender. Adding that its actions did not disadvantage one sex when compared with the other.
The Trump administration had urged the court to rule that Title VII would not include such cases, in a reversal of the government’s stance during the Obama administration.
The Justice Department said that “the ordinary definition of ‘sex’ is biologically male or female; it does not include sexual orientation”. Therefore, an employer who discriminates against workers in same-sex relationships does not violate Title VII as long as he treats men in same-sex relationships the same as women in same-sex relationships.
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