Supreme Court ruling extends protections for LGBTQ workers

A reason to celebrate as the Supreme Court outlaws workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

News Politics Brian Webb

This article was published on June 18th, 2020

Monday, June 15, 2020, was a watershed moment for the LGBTQ movement in the United States as the Supreme Court, in a surprising 6-to3 opinion, ruled that it is illegal for an employer to fire an individual for being gay or transgender. At issue was Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual’s sex and whether that extends to prohibitions based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, argued that “discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.” Therefore, “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

Joseph Fons holding a Pride Flag, stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building after the court ruled that a federal law banning workplace discrimination also covers sexual orientation, in Washington, D.C., June 15, 2020. Credit: Reuters.

History of LGBTQ discrimination at work

Not all LGBTQ people marry, but the majority work, which makes this decision an even bigger deal for the community. For decades, LGBTQ people have been discriminated at work due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order banning gay men and lesbians from government jobs. What came to be known as the “Lavender Scare ”, this order alone is estimated to have cost tens of thousands of jobs to the LGBTQ community and entrenched discrimination at work for the community.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The cases that led to this historic decision were from LGBTQ individuals discriminated against and who pushed back against the system.

Sadly, not all lived to see this day. Still, their courage and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances will go a long way in significantly improving the lives of gay workers, especially in rural areas and some red states that still discriminate against LGBTQ employees.

For these workers, the ruling means more freedom, greater job security, and a just cause for celebration. However, until we tackle the regime of at-will employment and firing, and strengthen both LGBTQ unions and others, we’re still a long way from entirely fighting employer discrimination.

The Supreme Court ruling victory is also symbolic of the gay and human rights movement’s long path. It’s a step towards the rigorous protection of legal equality for the LGBTQ community in America and beyond.

The LGBTQ community celebrates

Gay advocates across the U.S. and beyond hailed the Supreme Court decision.

“At this most challenging time for our community, the country and the world, it is heartening to see the Court decision bolstering fairness and equality in this country by affirming that LGBTQ+ people are protected from employment discrimination under federal law,” Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force, and National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund in a statement released on Monday. “Every person celebrating this ruling has decades of work by Black and Brown trans members of our community, in particular, to thank for the ability to work free from discrimination. And while this is a watershed moment for fairness and equality in our struggle for LGBTQ liberation, we still have work to do. We must close critical gaps in non-discrimination protections. For example, it is still legal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in federally funded programs, including hospitals, colleges, and adoption agencies, as well as discriminate against LGBTQ+, women, and others in public accommodations, including hotels and restaurants. Congress must join with the Supreme Court and the overwhelming majority of Americans to pass full federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.”

Brian K. Bond, Executive Director of PFLAG National, said, “PFLAG families across the country are celebrating and breathing a little easier today, knowing that their LGBTQ+ loved ones are protected from employment discrimination.” He continued, “Today’s 6-3 opinion on Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC stands to affirm the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reminding us that all people — inclusive of LGBTQ+ people — deserve the rights and protections of the Constitution.”

David J. Johns, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition: “This week has brought a mix of anger and hope for Black LGBTQ and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people. On Friday, the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, the Trump administration eliminated a rule protecting transgender people’s access to healthcare. This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Non-discrimination protections providing economic security for Black queer and transgender people are critically important.  The decision affirms the belief that everyone should enjoy civil rights and that LGBTQ/SGL people are, and should be, protected from workplace discrimination under federal law. This is not only a victory for our community but our country. Black queer and transgender people understand the necessity of federal protections more than most.”

Vanita Gupta, president, and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, “At a time when our fundamental values as a country are under attack, this decision affirms the basic belief that civil rights belong to us all, We commend the Supreme Court ruling decision to affirm that LGBTQ people are, and should be, protected from workplace discrimination under federal law. The Leadership Conference coordinated the legislative campaign to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and we are proud to see that historic law applied correctly.”

“We know, however, that our fight to protect LGBTQ people must go on. There are still numerous gaps in our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and Congress must act now to pass full federal anti-discrimination protection laws, like the Equality Act, for all people.”

“The Supreme Court today rejected the Trump administration’s plea that American employers be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ workers,” said Palm Center director, Aaron Belkin. “But the landmark ruling does not apply to discrimination against transgender Americans by the military, the nation’s largest employer. Today’s ruling makes the military, so often a successful leader in ending discrimination in American life, an outlier amidst a national consensus that arbitrary discrimination is harmful and wrong. With transgender workers protected by federal law in all other sectors, the military’s transgender ban is now even harder to defend.”

“In a joint statement, The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) co-founder & president Justin Nelson, co-founder & CEO Chance Mitchell and Out Leadership CEO and founder Todd Sears had this to say in response to the Supreme Court Decision Regarding LGBTQ+ Equality:

This decision is a step forward for LGBT rights in the United States. It reminds us that the protections for other minority groups, including people of color, the differently-abled, and women, must also be upheld and strengthened.

It brings national attention to many of the inequities that have kept law-abiding LGBT citizens from achieving all they can. We are now renewed in our determination to see the United States Congress now pass The Equality Act, enshrining these essential protections into federal law. Our economy simply does not achieve all it can unless everyone is included and given a fair shot. The protections of the Equality Act bring us much closer to the inclusion we need for the American Dream to be accessible to every LGBT American.”


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