Chelsea Hill, Queens University.
On October 8th, the American Supreme Court met to hear arguments pertaining to one of the most significant LGBTQ cases in US legal history. These cases will determine whether Title VII, which makes employment discrimination on the basis of sex illegal, should encompass sexual orientation and gender identity. On this day, multiple plaintiffs took to the stand to address the discrimination that they faced due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity. These cases will be decided separately. Therefore, even if the court decides that sexual orientation should be included under Title VII, this does not mean the same goes for transgender rights; the opposite outcome is also possible.
Win or lose, a meaningful statement will be made. Regardless of whether the arguments supporting either side are sound, it is the ethical implications of such decisions that need to be at the forefront of our discussions. LGBTQ+ rights should not be up for debate.
Lawmakers have a duty to protect everyone, regardless of personal values. From the progressive conservative divide on LGBTQ rights, we see how individual beliefs can affect one’s stance in these cases. Nevertheless, trying to interpret the law word for word should not be our main concern when people’s lives are on the line. Even though the Trump administration argues that Title VII does not protect LGBTQ persons; this interpretation does not say much about how we should understand this law, especially since the Obama administration took the opposite stance not many years ago. Their stance indicates how they choose to understand this law.
The Trump administration has repeatedly targeted the queer community, through actions such as the trans military ban and the attacks on LGBTQ health care access. Legal exclusions reinforce the notion that LGBTQ people do not belong in American society.
Legalizing discrimination against queer people invalidates their existence, making it easy for the public to dismiss them as well. For instance, it is not uncommon to see comments on social media like ‘mental health alert’, particularly relating to posts about trans people and issues. These comments highlight how some see queer identities as nothing more than mental illnesses which do not deserve full protection under the law.
While equality under the law is not always indicative of social atmosphere, laws usually assist in changing our culture. What message does it send to people if the Supreme Court rules against the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientations in Title VII? It suggests that the queer community does not deserve the same protections as everyone else; much like the issue with the Gay and Trans panic defense, which legally protects people who hurt or even murder someone because of their identity. Legalized discrimination speaks volumes about the value of queer lives in American society, and it justifies people’s prejudice in a way that is dangerous and deadly.
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric supported by the Trump Administration’s policies is dehumanizing. This case is dehumanizing. These demeaning practices correlate with the violence perpetrated against LGBTQ+ individuals, especially trans women of colour. Many activists are calling the recent murders of trans people this year an epidemic, which has left many people afraid for their own safety. This case works to reinforce the marginalization that perpetuates this cycle of hostility.
One particularly dehumanizing aspect of the Title VII arguments was their focus on bathrooms, which was brought up time and time again, and not only during the arguments related to transgender rights. This issue had no place in that courtroom. One Justice questioned, “If the objection of a transgender man transitioning to woman is that he should be allowed to use, he or she, should be allowed the use the women’s bathroom, how do you analyze that?” Not only is the use of incorrect terminology and pronouns for a transgender women hurtful, but it also reduces the trans experience to a singular issue. The bathroom debate perpetuates a false narrative that trans people are a danger to cisgender people, particularly cis women and girls in the bathroom. This issue took away from the problem at hand by playing on people’s unfounded fears about the so-called ‘predatory nature’ of trans people.
Apart from the greater cultural implications of this case, there are more immediate factors to consider, including increasing unemployment rates amongst LGBTQ persons and the problems that come along with them. One of plaintiffs who spoke in court was Gerald Bostock, who stated, “I was fired for being gay. I lost everything. I lost my livelihood. I lost my source of income. I lost my medical insurance.”
In 2017, a report found that LGBT youth have a higher risk of becoming homeless; one of the the consequences of which is a the higher death rate within the population. Making it legal to fire LGBTQ people when they have done nothing wrong is a matter of life and death for those who do not have stable support systems. While some states do have state-wide protective laws, the majority do not, leaving many vulnerable to job insecurity.
In addition to this influential workplace law, the Equality Act is another importance piece of proposed legalisation. This act will not only explicitly include protection of LGBTQ people under American law, but it will send a clear message that everyone deserves to live their authentic lives without fear.
Overall, our sexual orientation or gender identity in no way impedes on our ability to do a job. Whether or not you believe Title VII encompasses these elements of identity is ultimately not important. We all deserve to be protected under the law.
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