Big News: Supreme Court extends workplace protections

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Today, the LGBTQ+ community got a huge win!

In what shouldn’t be, but definitely is, a landmark case, the United States Supreme Court determined that the Civil Rights Act indeed protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity within the workplace.

The opinion was that these two would be covered under sex discrimination, meaning a man cannot be fired for being gay (and being in a same-sex relationship) unless women are also fired for dating men. Otherwise, it is discrimination against an individual’s acts based on his or her sex.

This, of course, came immediately after we heard that the Trump administration was removing protections for LGBTQ+ people (especially trans* people) in the health care system.

In other words, the fight isn’t over and we haven’t won the war, but we definitely won a battle today. Hopefully the Supreme Court will continue to uphold progress in its future decisions, of which there will be many.

But today, we can celebrate. At least a little bit.

What’s the significance?

I wanted to take a moment to explain why this matters, for those of you who are heterosexual and cisgender, and maybe don’t have the same experiences I do, especially if you live in one of the states that already offered protections for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace (there were 21 states, plus a few cities, who banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation several years ago).

I came out when I was still fairly young. When I made the decision to come out, I considered it a final decision, meaning I wasn’t going to pick and choose which situations I would be out in or who I would come out to. I wasn’t going to adopt a separate life story for new people or put on a facade in situations where I felt less-than-safe.

When I came out in high school, I came out for life.

I am lucky because I live in a state, New Mexico, that has provided protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity since 2003. In other words, if an employer discriminated against me, I had the option to bring a civil rights case under state law.

Other people aren’t so fortunate.

Again, only 21 states and a handful of cities provided these same protections, so being able to safely come out at work was a matter of calculating your own workplace’s culture (e.g. whether it’s conservative or progressive), your boss’s ethics, your coworkers’ values and beliefs, and whether your state or city offered protections.

I know many, many gay men who chose not to come out at work because they work in schools and homophobic parents are firmly against gay men working with their children.

I also know that I’ve had conservative coworkers who have tried to get me fired. And if any of you ever read this, know that I still remember you and that I certainly haven’t forgiven you.

When we were still fighting for marriage equality, it was difficult for many of us to go to protests, speak out in favor of equality, and defend ourselves and use our voices because we were afraid that if we did, we would be found out – and left unemployed – for doing so.

This wasn’t happening at Stonewall, y’all. This was happening five years ago before gay marriage was legalized.

And honestly, it kept happening until today.

This is important because it means that our entire community can now speak out and make our voices heard without fear of losing our jobs, our livelihoods, and our homes. This is especially important because it gives a voice to our community during a time when our trans* brothers and sisters are being targeted constantly for their identities. Gay men and women have come a long way now, but our trans* companions have not been so fortunate, and many of them have watched their rights being stripped away over the past few years.

Today, the Supreme Court has given us our voices.

Now we just have to be sure to use them.

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we shout.

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