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The symbolism of the LGBTQ+ Supreme Court ruling

The symbolism of the LGBTQ+ Supreme Court ruling

The symbolism of the LGBTQ+ Supreme Court ruling
June 23
17:00 2020

On June 16th the U.S. Supreme Court shocked the nation with a landmark decision that will change the future of many LGBTQ+ employees. In a 6-3 decision, the supreme court ruled that LGBTQ+ employees cannot be fired based on gender or sexual orientation. In order to understand the importance of this ruling, it is important to understand that individuals who identify as a part of the LGBTQ community have fought many years of oppression to be able to get to this point. 

This ruling is of high significance because it comes from many eras in history in which LGBTQ+ individuals have suffered from a form of oppression. In fact, in 1953 President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order that banned LGBTQ individuals from all jobs in government. An estimated more than 5,000 people lost their job and this later became known as the Lavender Scare. Part of the reason why it also took so long for the Equal Rights Amendment to get passed after the Civil Rights Act was passed was because many lawmakers warned that the Equal Rights Amendment would ban sex discrimination and would require states to legalize same-sex marriages. Others also argued that transgender individuals didn’t exist when the Civil Rights Act was passed when in fact they did.

When deciding the ruling, The Supreme Court considered three cases in which employers fired employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. The cases that were considered were Altitude Express Inc.v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. For each of these cases it was argued that these employees were violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Right Act prohibits discrimation in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Since Title VII includes the broad concept of “sex,” gender identity and sexual orientation would fall under this category given how closely related they are. Thus, making it illegal for employers to fire employees based on gender and sexual orientation. Before this ruling 27 out of the 50 states did not have laws that provided for the protection against discrimination for those who identified as LGBTQ members. Texas was one of the states that did not have laws on a statewide level to protect these individuals. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that LGBTQ+ employees cannot be fired on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, we all may be wondering what the future holds and what impacts will this ruling have.

Although this ruling protects millions of individuals now, those who are employed in a workplace that consists of less than 15 employees are still not protected. Under Title VII LGBTQ+ employees are only protected if their workplace employs more than 15 people. Regardless, this ruling will have immediate impacts around the nation in many areas of the workforce and one of those areas includes education. In the past LGBTQ+ teachers would have to worry about the risks of being fired but now have the legal protection against this form of discrimination. LGBTQ+ teachers being able to work freely without having to hide a part of who they are can bring many positive impacts to students. This can increase visibility among students, whether they identify as LGBTQ or not, and provide more room for inclusivity and overall create a space for students to learn from each other. This ruling protects the majority of forms of employment except for jobs that include being a minister or are more religiously affiliated. It also prohibits sexual and gender discrimination in housing and healthcare. Thus, it overrides the Trump Administration’s anti-trans regulations recently issued on June 12th under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, according to Rose Sax, deputy director of the LGBT and HIV project with the ACLU. 

What came to a surprise to the American people was the vote of Justice Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch is a conservative judge and was appointed by President Donald Trump. Given his conservative views, it would be easy to believe that he would not side with the majority. However, this was not the case. In his opinion, Gorsuch agreed that the concept of “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act included that one cannot be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity and sexual discrimination. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” Gorsuch said when giving the majority opinion. Gorsuch siding with the majority is monumental because he is a Trump-appointed justice and Trump has been very keen at rolling back protections for the LGBTQ+ community that were established under the Obama administration. 

Now that discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is unconstitutional we must not forget Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was at the center of this case. She died in May of this year but will forever be remembered for trailblazing the way to becoming the first Supreme Court case regarding the civil rights of transgender individuals, as well as contributing to the advancement of attaining equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

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Eunice Hernandez

Eunice Hernandez

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