Grant Berg, Contributor
On Oct. 8, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case Harris Funeral Homes, Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens in 2015 after she came out to her boss as a transgender woman. This case has incredibly high stakes, ones that have the possibility to push LGBTQIA people back in the closet. Here is the rundown:
While lower courts have ruled that it is illegal to fire someone because of their gender or sexuality, the Trump administration wants to reverse the rulings. The Trump administration is seeking to exclude transgender people from all the legal protections in all aspects of life by removing them from the Civil Rights Protection Act of 1964.
While the Civil Rights Protection Act does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity—these terms were not even on the minds of those who drafted it—Title VII bans employment discrimination based on, “race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” The ACLU argues that if you hire someone prior to their transition and fire them after, then it does constitute as sex discrimination. Therefore, people should be protected under the act.
Another component of this ruling reversal proposal is the argument that sex-based stereotypes should be legal. Meaning, if you are the kind of cisgender woman that wears pantsuits, you could legally be fired for not meeting the workplace’s expectations of femininity. So not only does this impact me as a transgender man, but also everyone who goes outside their gender expectations.
The Tuesday oral arguments are not a decision, and we most likely will not hear the court’s final ruling on this matter for at least several months, but the implications of this are incredible. If the Trump Administration has its way, this ruling will have the ability to push LGBTQIA people back into the closet after at least 30 years of gay and trans liberation.
Trans people already experience remarkably higher rates of unemployment than the majority of the country, and on top of these statistics, transgender people of color are more likely to experience homelessness and unemployment than their white counterparts. Allowing for legal discrimination based on gender will no doubt increase these statistics, but it will also force LGBTQIA people to change their lifestyles entirely. Being out at work and discussing queer experiences openly on social media and even in public may no longer be an option, and doing so may put careers and livelihoods at risk. This is a bleak outlook, but one to think about in the coming months. However, the alternative is that the Supreme Court could possibly side with Aimee Stephens, setting the precedent that trans people, and with them, all LGBTQIA people, are a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But with a conservative court, we must understand what’s at stake. The message that this sends to the LGBTQIA community is this: Go back to the closet–if you know what’s good for you.
If you’re struggling with the news right now, and need support, please consider contacting the Center for Wellness and Counseling, and consider making an appointment with them. The CWC is reachable at 612-330-1707. If you’re transgender, two-spirit, or nonbinary and are in need of immediate assistance, call the TransLifeline number at 877-565-8860.
This article was originally published in the October 11, 2019 issue.