Fate of the LGBTQ community’s job security lies in the hands of the Supreme Court

Arguments Heard on October 8 Will Determine if Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Will Cover Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

Following the weeks of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a press release was put out by the White House promising to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community. Additionally, the press release stated that Trump would not overturn an executive order given by the Obama administration in 2014 protecting LGBTQ individuals employed by federal contractors from workplace discrimination.

“President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community,” the press release stated.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. From his executive orders and agency rule-making to his social media posts, Trump has shown a gross disdain for the LGBTQ community from the very beginning.

The administration has recently filed a series of briefs in a vital LGBTQ rights case that will come before the Supreme Court. The trial, scheduled to take place on Oct. 8., will consist of three cases which will ultimately determine whether protections of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, race and sex will cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

Two of the cases, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, involve two gay men, Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock, who claim they were fired on the basis of sexual orientation.

Zarda was a skydiving instructor for Altitude Express, a skydiving company in Long Island, N.Y. While preparing for a tandem dive, Zarda revealed his sexual orientation of being a gay male to a female customer. Shortly after the dive, Zarda was fired.

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Sadly, Zarda died in a skydiving accident in 2014. His surviving partner, Bill Moore, and his sister, Melissa Zarda, have continued the lawsuit on behalf of Zarda’s estate.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says Zarda was fired for revealing his sexual orientation to the customer.

“As they were both preparing for the dive and Don was strapping himself to the woman, Don told her that he was gay to assuage any concern she had about being in close physical contact with a man she didn’t really know,” the ACLU says. “He never thought the comment would cause the end of his career at Altitude Express. But after the dive, Don’s boss fired him because he had come out to the woman.”

Bostock, who was a child welfare services coordinator for the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Ga., was fired shortly after a financial audit was conducted revealing that he had used his company credit card at gay-owned businesses.

News-daily.com says Bostock’s participation in a gay softball league prompted the audit that resulted in his termination.

“After word got around that he played in the ‘Hotlanta’ gay softball league, that he had tried to sign up CASA (court-appointed special advocate) volunteers during softball events and that he had allegedly used a CASA credit card at two gay-owned Midtown restaurants, Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske handed over a financial audit on Bostock’s activities to District Attorney Tracey Graham Lawson,” news-daily.com says. “No charges were filed; however, Bostock was fired.”

These cases are very significant, as they argue that existing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sex will also envelop discrimination based on sexual orientation as well. Regardless of the outcome of the verdicts, which are said to be determined by early 2020, they will set the precedent for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation moving forward.

The other of the three cases, which has received a great deal of coverage and continues circulating on social media, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involves a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job two weeks after informing her employer that she was transitioning from male to female.

Stephens worked at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Garden City, Mich. for six years as a funeral director. She considered herself to be a transgender woman for many years; however, she presented herself as a male at work, which resulted in her living in emotional turmoil for many years.

In 2013, she made the decision to reveal her gender identity and to pursue gender reassignment surgery in the coming months. After making this life-changing decision, Stephens wrote a letter to her employer explaining that she would be transitioning to a female and would be presenting herself as such upon her return to work.

“What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster,” Stephens wrote. “I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness. I realize that some of you may have trouble understanding this. In truth, I have had to live with it every day of my life and even I do not fully understand it myself.”

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“As distressing as this is sure to be to my friends and some of my family, I need to do this for myself and for my own peace of mind, and to end the agony in my soul,” she wrote. “I will return to work as my true self, Aimee Australia Stephens, in appropriate business attire. I hope we can continue my work at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes doing what I always have, which is my best.”

Two weeks later, Aimee Stephens was let go.

In a nutshell, the court will be determining whether or not it’s okay for an employee to be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The outcome of this trial will have a monumental impact on the U.S. — as a recent poll by Gallup advisory and analytics company estimates that “4.5 percent of adults in the U.S. — or about 11.3 million people — are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

For scale: North Carolina’s population is about 10.38 million. So, depending on the court’s ruling, a whole state’s population — plus some — could potentially be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Unfortunately, if it were left up to Trump the outcome in this trio of cases wouldn’t be in favor of the LGBTQ community.

Time Magazine says the Trump administration is basically asking the Supreme Court to legalize anti-gay employment discrimination based on an amicus brief filed on Sept. 20.

“The brief, from Solicitor General Noel Fransisco, argues federal prohibitions on employer discrimination do not extend to protect individuals from being fired or otherwise disenfranchised in the workplace because of their sexual orientation,” Time Magazine says.

Additionally, Time Magazine stated that another brief released earlier in September asked the Justice Department not to allow Title VII to protect transgender employees from being discriminated against.

“The Justice Department submitted another brief asking the Justices to conclude that Title VII does not protect transgender people from employer discrimination,” added Time Magazine.

Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the ACLU who is working on the case, says the Justice Department’s arguments also implicate protections for other individuals who don’t conform to the stereotypes of male and female behavior.

“People don’t realize that the stakes are extending not just to the trans and LGB communities, but to every person who departs from sex stereotypes,” Strangio says. “Women who want to wear pants in the workplace, men who want more childbearing responsibilities.”

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