Over 100 activists were reportedly arrested Tuesday amid a sit-in outside the Supreme Court as judges heard a trio of landmark LGBTQ+ employment cases.
Housing Works, an organization which aims to end the crises of HIV and homelessness, joined over 1,000 people in calling for justices to rule that queer and trans people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark law that extends workplace protections on the basis of characteristics like religion, race, and sex.
LGBTQ+ advocates have long held that the defintion of sex-based discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
If the Supreme Court agrees, LGBTQ+ people around the country would be protected from being fired because of their gender or sexuality. If the judges don’t, these individuals would remain vulnerable to discrimination.
At around noon, activists with Housing Works took the street to call for LGBTQ+ equality after the space had been evacuated and blocked off following a bomb scare. An estimated 80 individuals sat on First Street, the dividing line between the Supreme Court building and the National Mall, as local law enforcement officials cordoned them off with police tape. Footage of the sit-in shows activists holding signs that read “Liberation Is Justice” and “Disobedience Is Self-Defense.”
The confrontation reportedly ended with 133 people being arrested, between those who directly engaged in the sit-in and others present at the demonstration.
According to Housing Works, the action was planned days in advance of the pivotal October 8 hearing. Activist Blaine Metzgar tells Out that individuals were bussed in from Union Square in New York City that morning on four buses — two of which left at 1:30 a.m., while the other two departed at 5:30 a.m. All in all, he estimates that the organization brought more than 275 people to the event, and the contingent included representatives from ACT UP Philadelphia.
While the majority of the larger crowd gathered in a non-confrontational manner outside the Supreme Court steps, Metzger says civil disobedience plays an important role in the fight for justice. “It brings attention to the cause,” he says, “and people are willing to risk their bodies for the cause or show we’re willing to fight for something.”
Activist Ken Kidd, who is not affiliated with Housing Works but was present at the scene, agrees with Metzger. Kidd, a co-founder of Gays Against Guns, tells Out that “civil disobedience is what made this country great.”
“Trump talks about Making America Great Again,” he says. “What makes America great again is still disobedience. Just like this, where people claim their rights, where people claim their turf, and where people take pride in seeing what we were meant to be as Americans.”
The day’s events also included a counterprotest from anti-LGBTQ+ groups, as well as addresses from SCOTUS plaintiff Aimee Stephens, who was fired for being trans, and American Civil Liberties Attorney Chase Strangio. Strangio, one of the lawyers representing Stephens, told the crowd that he was “moved… to see all these trans people, Black trans women, and queer people of color in the courtroom showing up.”
“At the end of the day, whatever happens in court is not the end because we’ve built a beautiful movement,” he said. “It was a powerful testament to our work... and [the justices] knew they were looking into the eyes of trans people when they were hearing the arguments.”
A verdict is expected in Stephens’ case, which is the first time the Supreme Court will decide on the rights of trans people, by next June.