When I was fired for being trans, I had no idea that my case would become the first involving the civil rights of trans people to be in front of the Supreme Court. It is not what I wanted or asked for. I wanted to continue doing a job I was good at, in a career that I felt was a calling for almost three decades, and make enough money to support myself and my family.
By now, many people have heard at least part of my story. I worked at Harris Funeral Homes near Detroit for six years and had been promoted to Funeral Director. My job was to make sure that a funeral provided the closure a family needed. A lot can go into a funeral, including preserving a body, that a family may not be ready to think about. My job was to handle as much of that as possible for a family.
I went into funeral services after considering becoming a minister. Being able to comfort a family when they lost a loved one was very meaningful to me. It gave my life a sense of purpose. It was also a job I could do well. I always had positive reviews about my performance, and it meant a lot to me that a coworker trusted me to handle the funeral arrangements for their own family.
I gave my boss a letter in 2013 saying that I was going to come to work as my true self — a woman named Aimee. Two weeks later, I was fired.
Before sending that letter, I was at a point where I couldn’t see how to hide who I was anymore. I sat in my backyard and contemplated suicide. I didn’t know how to bend, so I was going to break. Then I realized there was another path forward. I liked who I am and was going to live life as my authentic, true self.
Eventually, that meant handing my boss the letter in the chapel of the funeral home. My boss took his time reading the letter. When he was done, I still didn’t know how he truly felt. He said he’d have to think about it and walked away. Two weeks later, he brought me to the same chapel, told me, “This isn’t going to work,” and handed me a severance package to walk away and pretend like my years of service and hard work meant nothing to the company.
Since filing my case, I’ve heard from so many people like me — who struggled with telling their family, friends, and coworkers that they are trans. And far too many people, discrimination often follows. I’ve learned that more than one in four transgender people experience workplace discrimination, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Fighting against the bigotry and prejudice my community experiences every day has also come with setbacks. Before I found a new job, my wife and I had to sell our truck and other possessions to make ends meet. We couldn’t support our daughter in college the way we wanted to.
Court battles are long. While the fight in court has gone on, I’ve also had increased health concerns. My wife, Donna, being by my side has allowed me to do more than I ever thought possible. She tells me that I am happier than I’ve ever been since I made the decision to be myself. What we’ve had to give up, like vacations and our truck, is worth it because we can be completely honest about who we are. We can now sit at home, with our cats and our pet rabbits, and know that we are being as true to each other as we can be.
What has kept me going is knowing that I was doing the right thing and the incredible support I’ve received from the LGBTQ+ community and our allies. I have looked up to Laverne Cox since I learned who she is, so seeing her read my letter and know who I am means the world to me. Learning that over 2,000 people told the Supreme Court that I should be protected by federal law and that what happened to me was wrong also gives me strength.
In many ways, it is shocking that this is the first case involving the civil rights of transgender people before the Supreme Court. We have always existed and we have always been impacted by our nation’s laws, far too often unjustly and without a meaningful voice. That won’t be the case on October 8. I will be in the Supreme Court, along with other transgender people including members of my legal team, Laverne Cox, and reporters.
If the justices were to ask me what I want from them, it would be simple. I want the court to see me as Aimee, a transgender woman who lives in Michigan and grew up in the south. I want the court to see that I did what I had to do to be true to myself.
And like other courts who have heard my story, I hope they will agree that what happened to me is against the law and rule in my favor.
I am so glad to have had the support of the local trans community, my attorneys at the ACLU, and people around the country in this fight. As hard as the past few years have been, I have no regrets about giving my boss that letter. My case isn’t only about the law. It is about me, and other transgender people, being told we have a place in our country, that our aspirations and our work have a place in our country. This land is ours, too.