Monday, June 15, 2020, will go down as one of the most important moments in for L.G.B.T.Q rights in history.
In a surprise decision, the conservative court ruled 6-3 in favor of a broader definition of "sex" when it comes to employment protections. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits "sex discrimination," in employment, however that definition has historically meant you cannot be discriminated against because you are male or female, when it comes to employment. The court expanded the definition of "sex" to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which means there is now federal protection for LGBTQ+ individuals when it comes to employment.
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law," wrote justice Neil M. Gorsuch, conservative justice and Trump supreme court nominee, joining five other justices in a surprise decision.
This is big. I cannot overstate that. It is now illegal to be fired because you are gay or transgender, all across the entire country. It is now illegal to be passed over for a promotion because you are gay or transgender, all across the entire country.
With President Trump rolling back Obama-era protections in the area of transgender healthcare just last week, a move that essentially allowed insurance companies and healthcare providers to deny a transgender person care simply because they are transgender, a Supreme Court civil rights victory comes at just the right time.
It essentially makes Trump's rollback unenforceable, as the President's rollback relies on a narrower definition of sex. Yes the Supreme Court's decision applies only to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (commonly referred to as Title VII), and yes Title VII only applies to employment discrimination, but many other civil rights protections refer to the protected classes and the definitions of those classes as defined in Title VII. This includes housing, public accommodation, credit decisions, education, and yes healthcare. Technically someone may have to submit a legal claim in one of these other areas on the basis of gender identity, but the precedent has been set by the court, "sex" includes gender identity.
I am fortunate to live in a state that has had employment protections, as well as housing, education, credit, and public accommodation protections explicitly in state code since 2007. As an transgender woman who is also a Human Resources professional, I know how important these protections are. When legislation was introduced in the Iowa legislature this year to expressly take away those protections in the state, I met with lawmakers, trying to help them understand that taking away this protection would allow my employer to fire me simply because I am transgender (they never would by the way).
While the bill ultimately failed, there was a thought, conveyed to me by the legislators who I was able to sit down with, that transgender people, particularly transgender women, take advantage of the system. Men become women to gain access to spaces they wouldn't otherwise have access to, such as the women's restroom, the argument goes. These so called "bad actors" are the reason why my legislators were trying to take away my rights to a job. (The stories that they tell of these "bad actors" by the way are anecdotes that aren't based in fact or reality). I did my best to help them understand that I am a person. I just want to go to the bathroom like everyone else. I have a family. A spouse and 5 kids. Taking away gender identity protections, or not having them in the first place like the 29 states that currently do not, is transgender erasure, and it's harmful. It's a system saying trans people don't exist, and then passing laws to back itself up.
This week however, we found out some part of the system knows we exist. While there is more work to be done, June 15, 2020, will be remembered as huge step forward in the validation of transgender individuals by a system of government that has historically said we don't matter. The Supreme Court made it clear this week that we are people, and we deserve to be protected too.