Gay and Trans Rights Tested in the Supreme Court


Ted Eytan

Arguments at the United States Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage on April 28, 2015

Brogan Dice

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard the first arguments of a potential landmark case concerning the 1964 Civil Rights Act, workplace discrimination, and LGBTQIA+ rights at the beginning of its 2019-2020 term. 

SCOTUS heard the cases of Bostock v. Clayton City., Ga, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC. These cases concern the capacity of the Civil Rights Act to extend workplace protections to all individuals no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act currently guarantees these protections to all regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The case of Bostock v. Clayton City., Ga revolves around a former welfare service coordinator from Georgia named Gerald Bostock who claims that he was fired based on his sexual orientation. Bostock’s case before SCOTUS is paired with a similar case in which a New York skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, also claims he was fired for his sexual orientation. 

The third case involves a transgender funeral director, Aimee Stephens, who after announcing her intention to transition from male to female was subsequently fired. This case is in contrast with its two contemporaries as it is being brought to SCOTUS after a lower court ruled that the firing violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. 

In the cases of Bostock and Zarda, the Supreme Court will examine whether or not to overturn two lower court rulings which applied a narrow view of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights. While in the case of Harris funeral homes and the EEOC, the Court will be reviewing an overturned decision in which a US Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the EEOC, who are representing Aimee Stephens in the trial. The lowest court in all three cases claimed that the federal statute does not include protections for sexual orientation or gender expression. With such a limited interpretation of the title, these decisions could set a detrimental precedent for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws that inhibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity while 7 other states inhibit discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The conclusion of these cases will fundamentally challenge the American understanding of what it means to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The greatest advancements in LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States, marriage equality and parental rights granted following Obergefell v. Hodges, are limited in reach to those who wish to be married or have children. These three cases, however, challenge the right of every member of the LGBTQIA+ community to be free of workplace discrimination and to maintain a job regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression.