Mark the date on your calendars: On October 8, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in a series of cases involving three workers who were fired for being LGBTQ+. One involves a woman named Aimee Stephens who was fired by her employer after coming out as transgender. Aimee’s case will be the first trans civil rights case ever heard by the justices, and the occasion is already bringing out the very worst in anti-trans rhetoric.
This past Friday was the deadline for non-parties to weigh-in with amicus briefs in the case, which will decide whether the prohibition on sdiscrimination because of sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes transgender people. A veritable “who’s who” of anti-trans voices joined the Trump administration to argue that the Supreme Court should rubber stamp discrimination against trans people. Among those who filed briefs in favor of firing trans workers with impunity include Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Dr. Paul R. McHugh, Ryan T. Anderson, Defend My Privacy, and the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF).
Many of these voices go far beyond the scope of what the court will actually decide (e.g., whether existing civil rights laws protect trans people) to make sweeping calls for the near expulsion of transgender people from society. It is not surprising to see such emboldened and hateful rhetoric on display given how brazenly anti-trans the Trump administration and the employer’s positions have been.
Though the U.S. government initially brought the lawsuit on behalf of Aimee, they have switched sides and are now defending her firing. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is now asking the highest court to rule that it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being transgender. Aimee’s former employer is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and together with the Trump administration, they are not only arguing that it should be legal to fire transgender workers but go so far as to suggest that it would be dangerous not to. In other words: It is for our own good because it is dangerous to let trans people transition at all.
In ADF’s brief before the Supreme Court, the right-wing legal firm lays out the argument that the debate is really about whether transgender people should have the right to bodily autonmy at all. “The science regarding gender identity is far from settled, and there are deep disagreements over whether otherwise healthy bodies should be physically modified to align with the mind,” the organization claims. “The opposite approach — aligning one’s mind with the body — has traditionally been the preferred method for treating other dysphorias.”
This mirrors the cruel gaslighting that ADF’s lead counsel has been using to justify Aimee’s firing in the press, telling Bloomberg essentially that she was fired “out of love.” John Bursch, vice president for appellate advocacy at the ADF, says that it is “healthier for people such as Stephens to try to ‘align their mind with their biological reality’ rather than to ‘change their gender.’” Every major medical association has debunked this view, which effectively amounts to conversion therapy by coercion.
In addition to echoing ADF’s baseless claims about how supporting gender transition is harmful to trans people, the range of anti-trans briefs issued on Friday raise a host of other specious arguments. The Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERFs) group, claims that protecting trans people from discrimination will harm the privacy and safety interests of others, particularly non-transgender women. If Aimee Stephens is protected from discrimination, the organization says it that would be tantamount to declaring that “words ‘women’ and ‘girls’ have no clear meaning.” This is because, according to WoLF: “Simply, Aimee Stephens is a man.”
Another group calling itself the Scholars of Philosophy, Theology, Law, Politics, History, Literature, and the Sciences goes even further. Its brief claims that “a redefinition of human nature” is at stake.
Though many of the briefs are extreme and unlikely to be heeded by the Supreme Court, the trend of cruelty is alarming and dangerous. Not only do multiple amici misgender Aimee, the Trump administration also refuses to any pronouns for her at all. The insistence that Aimee is not a woman and is somehow perpetrating a fraud on others is the same belief that animates epidemic levels of anti-trans violence against trans communities in the United States, particularly Black trans women.
This is not merely about protections for trans people; this is about our survival. Under President Obama, the EEOC and other agencies vigorously enforced federal laws to protect transgender people in the context of employment, housing, health care, and education under the well-accepted theory that prohibitions on sex discrimination include transgender people. Notably, the courts have also long held that punishing a person for being transgender — whether by firing them, denying them educational opportunities, or other public goods and services — is prohibited sex discrimination. Without those laws and precedents in place, nowhere will be safe for us.
Protecting transgender people from discrimination is not tantamount to a redefinition of human nature, but legalizing discrimination against transgender workers would be a catastrophic redefinition of American civil rights law that would take decades to rebuild. Many of us can’t afford to wait that long. Our lives depend on it.
Chase Strangio is a lawyer at the ACLU and is a member of the legal team representing Aimee Stephens before the Supreme Court.