It’s difficult to believe that, until this week, US employers who fired workers for being gay or transgender were not breaking the country’s civil rights laws. Indeed, it was legal in more than half of American states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender.
Now, thankfully, that’s all changed. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that federal law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, should be understood to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is worth noting that some people involved in the court ruling decision argued the authors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had not intended it to apply to cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity. And disappointingly, albeit not surprisingly, the Trump administration sided with this argument.
However, Judge Neil Gorsuch has ruled that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
When asked about the ruling by journalists at The New York Times, President Donald Trump said he “accepted” the court’s decision, despite having urged them to rule against gay and transgender workers.
“I’ve read the decision,” he said, “and some people were surprised, but they’ve ruled and we live with their decision.”
He added that it was a “very powerful decision, actually.”
Billie Jean King tweeted: “A huge win for the LGBTQ+ community today, as the Supreme Court ruled that living authentically is now a fireable offence.
“Protection under the law will now be afforded to millions of workers nationwide.”
“The Supreme Court’s historic decision affirms what shouldn’t have even been a debate: LGBTQ Americans should be able to work without fear of losing jobs because of who we are,” reads a message from GLAAD’s official Twitter account.
Taylor Swift, meanwhile, tweeted: “Thank you to the Supreme Court Justices who voted in favor and all the advocates who have fought so hard for this! We still have a long way to go to reach equality, but this is a beautiful step forward.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also shared a prepared statement from transgender plaintiff Aimee Stephens, who died last month. Her case was the first major transgender civil rights case heard by America’s top court.
“I am glad the court recognised that what happened to me is wrong and illegal,” Stephens said. “I am thankful that the court said my transgender siblings and I have a place in our laws… it made me feel safer and more included in our society.”
Despite the widespread celebrations, though, it is worth noting that the ruling comes out just days after the Trump administration announced it was removing transgender health-insurance protections.
Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness addressed this in a post on Instagram, in which he wrote: “It’s confusing, this news cycle. YAY!! We can’t be fired for being LGBTQ+ anywhere in this country BUT we still need to end discrimination in healthcare, housing, and more.”
The Netflix star continued: “Now don’t get me wrong: I’m excited and this is a good day for LGBTQ+ folks. HOWEVER! On this same day, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case that would challenge the precedents that created ‘qualified immunity’ which allows the police to continue to kill people with impunity.”
Van Ness finished powerfully: “We can’t rely on the court to fix everything. Today I’m asking you to call your representative and implore them to support the Ending Qualified Immunity Act by @ayannapressley and @justinamash.
“You can call the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121.”
It is worth noting that, here in the UK, rules made under the Equality Act 2010 protect employees from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity even if that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not known or if that person is wrongly perceived to be lesbian, gay, bi or trans
Despite this, it was recently revealed that more than two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people in the UK have been sexually harassed at work.
Of 1,151 LGBTQ+ people polled by the Trades Union Congress in 2019, 68% said they had experienced harassment, with 42% saying colleagues had made unwanted comments about their sex life.
More than a quarter (27%) said they had received unwelcome sexual advances.
How to be a better LGBTQ+ ally
If you would like to be a better LGBTQ+ ally, engaging with and charities and the work they do in the community is a great place to start.
With this in mind, please consider donating to one of the following charities:
- Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
- The Trevor Project
- GIRES: The Gender Identity Research & Education Society
- Trans Media Watch
- Albert Kennedy Trust
You can find a full list of local LGBTQ+ groups via Stonewall’s official directory.