THREE HISTORIC CASES concerning the protection of LGBTQ workers went before the Supreme Court for oral arguments on Tuesday. In each, the government is attempting to fundamentally roll back sex discrimination law as it applies to gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, and nonbinary people — but potentially to all workers who might pose a challenge to traditional gender conformity. Yet, as these cases progress, it should be impossible to think of them apart from the threats of harm already facing trans people in this country.
Transgender individuals currently experience unemployment at a rate three times higher than that of the cisgender population; for trans people of color, the rate is four times higher. According to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 30 percent of transgender people reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity in the previous 12 months alone. Thirty percent of transgender people reported being homeless at some point in their lives.
The Supreme Court cases, for which oral arguments began Tuesday morning, all concern whether Title VII, a key provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace because of “sex,” covers LGBTQ individuals. One case involves 58-year-old Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job at a suburban Detroit funeral home after coming out as a trans woman to her employer. In another landmark case, justices heard appeals in separate lawsuits filed by gay men who were fired after their sexual orientation became known to their employers.