Yet another debate about whether LGBTQ+ people should be granted the same rights as other Americans is underway in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
Three cases face the Supreme Court regarding protections for LGBTQ+ people under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Should the cases be decided in the plaintiffs’ favor, it could signify the expansion of basic workplace protections to the LGBTQ+ community. Should they be decided in the defendants’ favor, it could mean widespread discrimination not only against LGBTQ+ people but also anyone who does not traditionally express their gender identity.
Title VII protects Americans from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and sex. The cases currently being argued before the Supreme Court involve a pair of lawsuits filed by two gay men who claim they were fired for their sexual orientation and a suit filed by a transgender woman who claims she was fired for expressing her gender identity. The plaintiffs argued that these cases fell under the sex clause of Title VII, which has historically protected employees from discrimination based on sex stereotypes. The most important precedent for this argument is the 1989 SCOTUS case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, in which the court ruled that employers could not fire employees based on their conception of proper gender roles (e.g. a woman acting too masculine).
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that Title VII should cover workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, saying, “We can't deny that homosexuals are being fired merely for being who they are and not because of religious reasons, not because they are performing their jobs poorly…”
The decisions on these cases will not only affect LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace but also legal protections for LGBTQ+ people in a myriad of areas, including housing, education, credit, loans, and much more. If a precedent is set that protects LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, it will be broadened into these areas. If the SCOTUS rules against the cases, LGBTQ+ people will continue to suffer. LGBTQ+ advocates fear that the politically divided Supreme Court will rule against expanding the protections of Title VII, particularly with the addition of Trump-appointed justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. While these justices were appointed by a conservative president, there is no guarantee that they will vote along political lines. Instead, a relevant concern is that these justices will vote along a constructionist viewpoint that emphasizes making rulings specifically based on the wording of the law. Gorsuch in particular may support the plaintiffs in this decision, since he agreed that transgender people had a right to claim sex discrimination under Title VII in a case called Kastl v. Maricopa Community College District.
The decision could also affect more Americans than the LGBTQ+ population. In an interview with Vox, Sunu Chandy, the director of the National Women’s Law Center, added that the new interpretation of the law could harm heterosexual and/or cisgender women and men as well. If employers are permitted to fire employees for not adhering to their ideals of masculinity and femininity, women could be fired for something as simple as cutting their hair short.
This SCOTUS decision is also vitally important for Montanans of all stripes. Only 21 U.S. states have non-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. Montana is not one of them. According to USA Today, there are “no explicit protections for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law” in private employment in Montana. Instead, LGBTQ+ people in this state can be legally fired, refused training and harassed at their jobs. While some cities have specific protections in place, there is no statewide anti-discrimination policy.
This issue is intensely politically charged. Some communities in the United States support the defendants and argue that firing people based on religious beliefs is justified. Other communities believe that societal pressure is enough to prevent homophobic and transphobic actions and argue that there should be fewer restrictions and regulations on businesses.
I understand that there are tensions between the LGBTQ+ and religious communities in America. Personally, I am both a Christian and a bisexual woman, so I can comprehend these struggles better than most. However, I firmly believe that the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people should be protected fully under the law. Firing people simply for their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong, no matter your religious beliefs. The core tenet of many religions is to love and serve others. The behavior of many religious organizations in the United States often does not follow this command, particularly in the case of LGBTQ+ rights.
In addition, I would love to believe that businesses could be socially pressured into respecting LGBTQ+ people, but I would rather have legal protection alongside social pressure. I can understand the conservative desire to reduce corporate regulations, but protection of minorities like the LGBTQ+ population is incredibly important. The Bozeman municipality has an ordinance protecting LGBTQ+ workplace rights in both the private and public sectors. Expansion of this ordinance would not affect business to an extreme, and it would keep people safe.
There’s logic behind these arguments, but it comes down to whether you think that LGBTQ+ people should have the same legal rights as other Americans. As for myself, I am tired. I am tired of seeing LGBTQ+ people evicted from their apartments, drug use skyrocketing from living on the streets, and higher rates of suicide and violence due to homelessness. I am tired of seeing LGBTQ+ people fired from their jobs, widespread poverty without any source of income, and hunger and disease disproportionately affecting the community. According to the American Psychological Association, LGBTQ+ people are “especially susceptible to socioeconomic disadvantages” such as these.
I want it to stop. I don’t want to crack open my laptop slowly every morning to check the news and discover which new losses I have to bear. I don’t want any more photographs surrounded by candles, hypocritical memorials to people who weren’t defended in life. I don’t want to fear violent beatings for holding another woman’s hand.
I deserve to be safe in my community. I should be able to rent an apartment, accept a job offer, and pursue an education with the legal protections afforded to other Americans. I shouldn’t have to write articles arguing for these rights. I am a person, and I hope that the SCOTUS will affirm that in the coming weeks.