Morgan Noll
June 15, 2020 11:49 am
Bill Clark, Getty Images

Here’s some good news during Pride Month: On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. The case addressed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. The case focused specifically on the last part—discrimination based on sex—questioning whether or not this included gay and transgender workers. The vote was 6 to 3, with the majority concluding that yes, discrimination against gay and transgender workers counts as discrimination based on sex.

This decision means that LGBTQ workers are protected, by law, from workplace discrimination—and that’s no longer up for any interpretation.

Two sets of cases led to this decision. The first involved a pair of lawsuits from gay men—Gerald Bostock of Georgia and Donald Zarda of New York—who both said they were fired because of their sexual orientation, The New York Times reports. In the past, most federal appeals courts have interpreted Title VII to exclude sexual orientation discrimination, NYT reports, aside from two cases, in New York and Chicago, which ruled this a form of sex-based discrimination. Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, wrote for the majority in Zarda’s case and concluded that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.”

The second case involved in Monday’s landmark decision was a lawsuit from Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who said her employer fired her from a Michigan funeral home after she announced in a letter to her employees that she would start expressing her identity as a woman at work. Stephens had worked at the funeral home for six years and was fired two weeks after sending that letter. NYT reports that the funeral home’s owner, Thomas Roth, gave this response as his reason for firing her: “Well, because he was no longer going to represent himself as a man. He wanted to dress as a woman.”

Fortunately, The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled that Roth’s offensive reasoning is unlawful, arguing that discrimination against transgender employees is inherently motivated by the employee’s sex.

“It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” the court said, adding, “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

Since news of the Supreme Court ruling came out, various celebrities are celebrating this landmark LGBTQ win.

Taylor Swift acknowledged that we still have a long way to go in the fight for LGBTQ rights, but called the decision “a beautiful step forward.” Jonathan Van Ness kept his reaction simple with a celebratory tweet that read, “Fuck yes Supreme Court.” See various celebrity reactions below.

While Monday’s decision is cause for celebration, this news comes after an upsetting setback for the trans community that happened just last week.

On June 12th, notably the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shootings, Trump reversed Obama-era protections that prohibited gender-based discrimination in healthcare, leaving transgender and gender non-conforming individuals even more vulnerable when seeking medical help.

So, as we move forward, it’s important to be mindful of where the fight for equality began and all the work that still needs done. American politician Stacey Abrams included an important reminder in her response to the Supreme Court ruling, emphasizing the impact of community action. “A law made real by protest in 1964 protects folks in 2020,” she wrote.

As we take time to celebrate this LGBTQ victory during Pride Month, protests for Black lives continue across the country. Let’s hold onto the momentum and never forget that it was Black queer and trans people who laid so much of the important groundwork.