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Supreme Court rules LGBTQ+ Employees Protected From Discrimination

Fiona Waters

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June has been a difficult month. Coronavirus has affected everyone. African-Americans and people of color have had to relive historical accounts of racism and police violence in the present. This Pride Month, on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Trump administration announced that transgender individuals could legally be denied health care simply for their gender identity.

In these dark times, it's time for a sliver of light. On Monday, June 15th, the Supreme Court explicitly banned LGBTQ+ employment discrimination.

If you're like me, you're thinking, “Wait, that wasn't already illegal?” Less than half of the 50 states have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Employment discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ individuals began with Washington DC in 1972. Since then, only 22 states have ratified similar protections.

In 1980, a federal policy began to define discrimination against sexual orientation as a “prohibited personnel practice.” These protections were reinforced by President Clinton in 1994 and President Obama in 2014 and were even endorsed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Despite these protections, a lawyer could still argue against them in court and win on behalf of an employer. If winning a case was a gamble for someone experiencing discrimination, there was less motivation to sue.

Monday's decision by the Supreme Court has discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees not just technically illegal, but fully unconstitutional.

Already, sex discrimination in the workplace was unconstitutional, as written in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The new ruling uses this line of logic in its language. A man attracted to women cannot be fired for his preference; therefore, a woman attracted to women cannot be either.

The decision itself comes from three different cases. One man, in fact, a government employee, was fired after joining a gay softball league in 2013. Another man was a skydiving instructor who was let go after disclosing to a customer that he was gay. A third case involved a transgender woman. She had worked at her job for six years before transitioning and was fired only two weeks after her announcement.

While the ruling is primarily concerned with the workplace, it also makes it easier for those with LGBTQ+ identities to argue for inclusion under any language forbidding discrimination based on sex, including health care. Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign had already planned to sue the Trump administration for its June 12th rollback of health protections for LGBTQ+ people. This new Supreme Court ruling, which occurred only days later, makes the discriminatory health care policy even more difficult to defend.

Today, LGBTQ+ identities are embraced much more than they were in the past, but this ruling is a stark reminder of how far the US still has to go. Housing discrimination is an issue in the LGBTQ+ community for many adults. For youth, bullying, homelessness, and even suicide occur at much higher rates than cisgender or heterosexual individuals. Providing equal rights to employment is just the first step of many in advancing the equality of LGBTQ+ people.

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