Supreme Court rules historic victory for LGBT employees

The U.S. Supreme Court decided that an employer who fires an individual for their sexual orientation or gender identity violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling came on Monday, June 15, marking another historic victory for the LGBT community during Pride Month.  The outcome was a shock to many Americans as the court’s majority often practices judicial restraint – deferring interpretations of the Constitution to Congress and avoiding the modification of laws.  

LGBT pride flag. Photo by Stock Catalog

However, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with four justices who often practice judicial activism – interpreting laws in a changing society based on the current social context to protect basic rights.

Gorsuch wrote the majority’s opinion on the ruling.

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

Gorsuch stated that an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity has no relevance to employment decisions.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissenting opinion.  He stated that “neither ‘sexual orientation’ nor ‘gender identity’ appears on that list,” and his conclusion offered different variations of the definition of sex referring only to gender.

According to the ACLU, 31 states lacked specific employment protections for transgender people before the Supreme Court’s decision.  Despite the current decision, fighting for equal rights has always remained a constant struggle for LGBT Americans.

The Stonewall Riots began on June 28, 1969 in New York City, when police officers tried to raid a popular gay bar in lower Manhattan.  The three-day riot became known as the defining moment that started the LGBT rights movement.  A year later, members of the LGBT community marched into Central Park for the first pride parade in America.

When the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, many Americans viewed GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency Disorder) as a shameful disease only spread by homosexual activities.  This misconception increased discirmmination against LGBT individuals.  After the discovery that symptoms were found outside of the LGBT community, the CDC changed its name to AIDS (Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

AIDS memorial quilt to honor those who died from the deadly pandemic. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy would accidentally lead to the military continuing to taunt and shame those for their sexual orientation/gender identity.  Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife, called on the civil rights movement to stand up to homophobia, along with racism.  Many trailblazers for the LGBT rights movement have been Black activists.  

Gay rights activist Bayard Rustin was a critical organizer for the March on Washington in 1963.  Rustin was behind the non-violent aspect of the civil rights movement.  He claimed that Dr. King must lead peaceful demonstrations for freedom, instead of violent counter attacks towards oppressors.

On Nov. 4, 2008, California made same-sex marriage illegal by passing Proposition 8.  This decision sparked the NOH8 campaign where people, many of whom are notable celebrities, promote marriage equality through photos. 

People pose for NOH8 Campaign. Photo by David Kae.

In 2010, Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional, and Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” months later.  Finally, on June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges declared same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states.

Pride Month is unofficially recognized in June as a month where LGBT Americans come together in cities across the country for pride parades and events to celebrate their freedom and identities.

Currently, the Human Rights Campaign states that 68% of LGBT youth say they hear negative statements about being LGBT from their elected leaders.

The Trump administration has repeatedly dealt blows to the LGBT community, withdrawing protections for transgender students in federally-funded schools just weeks after taking office.  On May 11, 2018, the Bureau of Prisons rolled back rules that allowed transgender inmates to use cellblocks and bathrooms that matched their gender identity.  In April 2019, the administration’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military went into effect.

Though their struggle continues, LGBT Americans continue to fight.  According to the Human Rights Campaign, 77% of LGBT youth say they know things will get better.  As the Supreme Court wrote in their decision earlier this month, discrimination must be checked at all times.

 “Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.”