Chase Strangio, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union known for representing Gavin Grimm and Chelsea Manning in court, tweeted something urgent over the weekend.
“If you don’t know what is happening on October 8th I urge you to find out,” Strangio posted on Sunday. “It will be one of the biggest days in LGBTQ legal history and we have a lot to do to prepare. Our fight is at SCOTUS. Our lives on the line. Don’t look away.”
If you don’t know what is happening on October 8th I urge you to find out. It will be one of the biggest days in LGBTQ legal history and we have a lot to do to prepare. Our fight is at SCOTUS. Our lives on the line. Don’t look away.
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) July 28, 2019
In case you don’t know what he’s talking about, Strangio’s referring to the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments on three separate court cases that involve anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace and whether such discrimination is prohibited under existing federal law, as The Washington Blade reported earlier this month.
Although about half of all LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. are protected from employment discrimination at the state level, no such protections exist at the federal level. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act expressly “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin,” and “sex” in this clause has long been understood to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. But the Trump administration has sought to ignore this, pushing to more narrowly define sex as binary, assigned at birth, and totally immutable.
The three cases arriving on the Supreme Court’s doorstep this October aim to reverse the Trump administration’s course, establishing that existing federal protections against sex-based discrimination cover discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, as well. Zarda v. Altitude Express concerns a late skydiving instructor who was fired on account of being gay, while Bostock v. Clayton County concerns a municipal worker who experienced anti-gay discrimination while working in city government. The two cases have been consolidated into one single case that aims to determine whether Title VII’s prohibitions around sex-based discrimination cover sexual orientation-based discrimination. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, which concerns a funeral home worker who was terminated for being trans, similarly hopes to decide whether gender identity-based discrimination is a form of sex-based discrimination.
Anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination will continue in the workplace, however the Supreme Court rules on these cases. But this kind of precedent would offer legal recourse for queer and trans workers when it does — and hopefully dissuade homophobic and transphobic employers from future discrimination if they know they might face consequences for it.
How will these cases turn out? We’ll just have to wait and see this fall.