Right now, we are the midst of a pandemic in addition to incredibly important nationwide demonstrations in support of Black lives. Then, on Friday, when the federal administration rolled back health care protections for LGBTQ people, it seemed as though any positive news for our community was few and far between.
But today, we are encouraged as the Supreme Court has ruled in a historic decision on LGBTQ rights. We know what was at stake in these cases, and the message from the U.S. Supreme Court is clear: LGBTQ people should be able to work free from harassment or discrimination.
While we celebrate this important moment for legal equality, our work is far from over both in our pursuit to end systemic racism as well as addressing the major gaps in federal non-discrimination laws. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed because of the leadership, hard work and determination of black Americans. And today, 56 years later, the black community is still fighting against discrimination and violence.
In Oregon, we have had these employment protections for the last 13 years, thanks to the Oregon Equality Act. But what we know from the lived experience of transgender Oregonians is that it is hard to be hired at all. Unemployment and underemployment are still major barriers for the trans community, especially the Black trans community. We want to encourage employers to look at your hiring practices and think about how you can be more inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming Oregonians.
So as we celebrate this historic decision by the Supreme Court, we also join the call for clearly dismantling the systems that continue to perpetrate discrimination and violence against our Black LGBTQ community in addition to building federal non-discrimination protections.Today’s Supreme Court decision is an important step forward. We want to thank Aimee Stephens and Donald Zarda, the two plaintiffs who were so brave as to stand up against the discrimination they faced in their workplaces. Neither of them lived to see today but we will end with words from Aimee Stephens, “Always strive to be who you are. Deep down you know who you are and don’t let anyone else tell you any different. Hold your head high and keep marching forward. It will get better.”
Learn more about the Supreme Court cases: https://www.aclu.org/cases/lgbtq-discrimination-cases-supreme-court
R.G. & G.R. HARRIS FUNERAL HOMES v. EEOC and AIMEE STEPHENS (TRANSGENDER STATUS)
Aimee Stephens worked as a funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes. When she informed the funeral home’s owner that she is transgender and planned to come to work as the woman she is, the business owner fired her, saying it would be “unacceptable” for her to appear and behave as a woman. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March 2018 that when the funeral home fired her for being transgender, it violated Title VII — the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment. Aimee was the same capable employee before and after her transition, but she was fired because she took steps to be the woman she is. That’s sex discrimination.
ALTITUDE EXPRESS INC. v. ZARDA (SEXUAL ORIENTATION)
Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, was fired from his job for being gay. A federal trial court rejected his discrimination claim, saying that the Civil Rights Act does not protect him from losing his job for being a gay man. Tragically, in October 2014, Zarda died unexpectedly, but the case continues on behalf of his family. In February 2018, the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of discrimination based on sex that is prohibited under Title VII. The court recognized that when a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person is treated differently because of discomfort or disapproval that they are attracted to people of the same sex, that’s discrimination based on sex.
BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY (SEXUAL ORIENTATION)
Gerald Lynn Bostock was fired from his job as a county child welfare services coordinator when his employer learned he is gay. In May 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider an outdated 1979 decision wrongly excluding sexual orientation discrimination from coverage under Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination, and denied his appeal.