On Monday, the Supreme Court shocked political observers when it handed down a landmark opinion affirming that LGBTQ+ people are protected from employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Another major twist: the decision was made 6-3 and was authored by Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined him.
Although federal courts had interpreted sexual orientation and gender identity to be covered under “sex” as a protected class for over two decades, there was widespread expectation that the absolute best case scenario for LGBTQ+ people would be a limited ruling by the conservative-majority bench that would hold up either sexual orientation or gender identity but not both—and more likely, a total defeat. LGBTQ+ people have every right to celebrate this victory and reflect on how far we’ve come, but it would be a huge mistake to think that this means the fight for equality is over. In reality, we are still quite far away from LGBTQ+ people having the full rights and citizenship of non-LGBTQ+ people in this country, which is why we desperately need to pass the Equality Act.
It would be a huge mistake to think that this means the fight for equality is over.
Despite being an enormous victory, Monday’s ruling only applies to employment discrimination. In most states, LGBTQ+ people still lack non-discrimination protections in areas like housing, public accommodations, credit, education, federally-funded programs, and jury service. From the Department of Education turning away trans students with civil rights complaints to the Trump administration giving the green light to federally-funded adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, state-sanctioned or condoned bigotry on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is still a present reality for LGBTQ+ Americans and their families.
The Supreme Court’s decision also does nothing in the immediate future to address the Trump administration’s blatant attacks on LGBTQ+ people, such as a regulation put into place on Friday that strips non-discrimination protections out of the Affordable Care Act for transgender people, permitting medical personnel to deny even life-saving health care to trans people—and LGBTQ+ people generally—if the the medical provider feels doing so would go against their personal beliefs.
Likewise, Trump’s ban on trans people in the military will not be rescinded as a result of this decision, although the reasoning may be used by federal courts to strike down the ban in the future. Same goes for a case argued before the Supreme Court earlier this month concerning a religious adoption agency in Philadelphia that refuses to place adoptive or foster children with prospective LGBTQ+ parents. (This was in violation of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.) None of these discriminatory practices are immediately affected by Monday’s ruling.
In this moment of protest against police violence and abuse, there is also an ongoing epidemic of violence against Black trans people, particularly Black trans women, who comprise the overwhelming majority of anti-trans murders in the United States over the past several years. Although employment protections will somewhat improve the lives of Black trans people, they still face higher rates of homelessness, food insecurity, and lack of access to quality health care due to systemic racism.
There are so many reasons why voting in November is absolutely critical—but this is especially true for those who care about LGBTQ+ rights.
There is a long fight ahead of LGBTQ+ people on a number of fronts, but so many of these obstacles can be overcome by passing the Equality Act into law. This would provide comprehensive federal non-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Last year, the House of Representatives passed this legislation in a historic bipartisan vote. But despite that vote and polling showing overwhelming support across the political spectrum for the bill, Sen. Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to the floor of the Senate for consideration.
There are so many reasons why voting in November is absolutely critical—but this is especially true for those who care about LGBTQ+ rights. In order for LGBTQ+ Americans to have an equal stake in our country, we must not only unseat President Donald Trump but also win a Democratic majority in the Senate. With that, we can pass the Equality Act and other legislation that is so important to LGBTQ+ people, including gun reform and support for our undocumented LGBTQ+ siblings.
Our fight is not over, but the fact that our conservative-majority Supreme Court affirmed employment protections for LGBTQ+ people in existing civil rights laws gives us every reason to believe that more change is ahead.
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