As LGBTQ Pride Month comes to an end, it’s important to recognize the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, in which it ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender individuals from being fired simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fifty years ago, in June 1970, activists organized marches in New York, Chicago and San Francisco to commemorate the Stonewall riots that occurred the previous year in New York. Officers from New York City’s Public Morals Division raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, to enforce laws that prohibited homosexuality. Patrons fought back and launched a series of protests demanding equal rights. The marches that started the following year eventually grew to include hundreds of thousands of individuals demanding protection against prejudice, harassment and discrimination, as well as full and equal civil rights, including marriage equality. In 2009, President Barack Obama officially declared June as LGBT Pride Month.
Much has changed in the past 50 years. Today, members of the LGBTQ community can get married and legally adopt children anywhere in the U.S. However, until the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, a person could be legally fired in 28 states for being gay, lesbian, or transgender, or expressing an alternate gender identity. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch found that discrimination based on being homosexual or transgender violated Title VII, which makes it “unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Applying a straightforward analysis of the text of the statute, Justice Gorsuch said, “In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee.” He wrote, “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating . . . based on sex.”
The case involved three individuals, one of whom was fired after he began participating in a gay softball league. Another was fired after he mentioned being gay. The third was fired after she informed her employer that she was transgender. The decision is a major victory for the LGBTQ community, although it is unfortunate that it has taken so long to get to this place. Despite the long road, today we can celebrate that LGBTQ people no longer have to fear losing their careers and accompanying medical and other benefits by being their authentic selves. No longer do they have to conceal their personal lives.