On June 15th, LGBTQ+ workers received some extraordinary good news that demonstrates how years of organizing and struggle pay off. By a six to three majority, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate because of a person’s sex, among other factors, also covers sexual orientation and transgender status. The Court upheld rulings from lower courts that said sexual orientation discrimination was a form of sex discrimination.
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch states:“[a]n employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids. Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result. But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.”
At last, it is now illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because that person is part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Our union has been an ally throughout the fight that led to this breakthrough. At the bargaining table, we demanded and won protections against homophobic and transphobic discrimination in our contracts. We joined with elected leaders at the municipal, state, and federal level who battled to expand the law to protect LGBTQ+ workers. We filed amicus briefs and supported the legal campaign for equality for all workers at every stage. I’m proud that through years of struggle for equal rights, justice for LGBTQ+ has become the consensus view of healthcare workers.
While Monday’s ruling is explicitly about only employment protections, it provides the basis to ensure broader legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community. There are still no written protections around healthcare, housing and public accommodations for the community, so our fight is not over. However, this ruling is a big step in achieving the just society every person deserves.
One of those who brought the SCOTUS case that led to this breakthrough was Aimee Stephens, a Michigan funeral home worker and trans woman who fought for her job even as she suffered from terminal illness. Aimee did not live to see the victory today. I’ll remember her as a hero. All of us who are LGBTQ+ workers, and everyone who believes in rights and equality for all workers, owe her a debt of gratitude.
Matthew W. Yarnell
President, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania