LGBTQ Activists Celebrate Victory in Supreme Court’s Anti-Discrimination Ruling

LGBTQ activists are celebrating a massive win following the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers.

“Today, SCOTUS ruled that ‘an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.’ This is a major legal victory,” the Sylvia Rivera Law Project tweeted out. “Our fight to create a world without workplace discrimination for trans people, disproportionately trans people of color, goes on.”

Bestselling author and transgender rights activist Janet Mock expressed similar sentiments.

“A victory hard won in the courts & on the streets,” Mock wrote. “Grateful to the lawyers, organizers & activists but most grateful to those who had to live stealth or closeted, who lost jobs for living their truth, who left parts of themselves at their employers door.”

Chase Strangio, an ACLU lawyer involved in the case, noted that the language used in the decision was reflective of the words that were used by plaintiffs and the LGBTQ community in general — a huge victory in and of itself.

“The words that we crafted. And fought for. In the middle of the night. Through so many drafts. Are in this opinion,” Strangio tweeted. “The words of trans lawyers. The words of Black queer women lawyers. Our words.”

In the days leading up to this Supreme Court ruling, some LGBTQ lawyers and activists had expressed cautious hope about the possibility of such a victory, but the outcome was widely deemed uncertain.

Two conservatives on the bench, Justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch, joined liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer on Monday in rendering the ruling. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito dissented from the majority decision.

Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, determining that, on the question of whether firing an LGBTQ worker is improper or not, the “answer is clear.”

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Gorsuch wrote. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Title VII protects against discrimination in the workplace when it comes to sex, but it doesn’t explicitly state that it also protects against gay or transgender workers from being fired. Gorsuch explained that, in those instances, the protections on sex in Title VII extends to those workers as well.

“If the employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee — put differently, if changing the employee’s sex would have yielded a different choice by the employer — a statutory violation has occurred,” Gorsuch explained.

The ruling will positively impact millions of workers across the United States who are part of the LGBTQ community. Prior to Monday’s decision, the Trump administration had rejected the notion that Title VII extended to LGBTQ workers.

Gabriel Arkles, who served as counsel for Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman whose case was one of three that were ruled on, celebrated the historic win but also emphasized that continued struggle will be needed to make the legal ruling into a material reality.

“Just because discrimination is illegal does not mean it won’t happen,” Arkles said. “Discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and disability still happens.”

Nevertheless, Arkles pointed out how different the legal landscape is for this fight now than it was a day ago, displaying a map showing where in the U.S. it is now “illegal to fire us for being who we are.” The entire map is filled in.

In another series of tweets, Arkles also recognized the work of previous Black trans activists, including “people like Pauli Murray, Lucy Hicks Anderson, Sir Lady Java, Carlett Brown, Ava Betty Brown, Dana Turner, Marsha P. Johnson, [and] James McHarris.”

The decision, Arkles noted, “will still not keep Black trans people from getting killed. We have so much more work still to do.”

Indeed, transgender women of color are disproportionally the victims of violence in the U.S. They are impacted by violent crimes at a greater rate than Americans as a whole, due to the intersections of racism, sexism, transphobia and other forms of oppression in our society.

Last week, two Black transgender women, Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells in Pennsylvania, were killed a day apart from each other. Both killings are being investigated as homicides.

Following their deaths, and in recognition of the many other trans people of color who have been killed this year and in years past, tens of thousands of activists gathered in cities across the country on Sunday to march for Black trans lives. An estimated 15,000 individuals made it to the demonstration in New York City, while around 25,000 are believed to have gathered in Hollywood in support.