Local LGBTQ advocates hail Supreme Court’s anti-discrimination ruling

People gather at the historic Stonewall Inn to celebrate the LGBTQ victory, in Greenwich Village, a section of New York City, US on 6-15-2020 . A landmark 6-3 decision to protect , gay, lesbian and transgender workers from discrimination, has passed today by the Supreme Court. The ”opinion” written by Justice Neil Gorsuch protects individuals from being fired based on actions or traits that would not have been questioned in members of a different sex, according to CNN. (Photo by John Lamparski/NurPhoto via AP)

Paige Bennett, News Lab reporter, [email protected]

Jackie Knutti had all but given up hope that the United States would enact laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace. 

“I actually have two T-shirts that say ‘married today, fired tomorrow.’ And honestly, I really thought that we would never get protections,” said Knutti, an outreach specialist at CANAPI, the Community AIDS Network Akron Pride Initiative. 

So when Knutti heard Monday the Supreme Court ruled employers cannot fire workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, she was ecstatic. 

“I think it’s going to make a really, really big difference, especially in what it looks like to be out in the workplace,” she said.

In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, also protects gay and transgender people. The decision came from a Supreme Court with a conservative majority and was a victory for LGBTQ advocates. 

“An employer who fires 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,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in the court’s decision. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, fewer than half of states had laws that prohibited employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Michael Spayd, one of the founding officers of PFLAG Kent, said the chapter followed the case closely. PFLAG, which was founded in 1972, is a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights and educates communities. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling means individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender cannot be fired based only on that status. 

Spayd said the Supreme Court’s ruling is significant for members of the LGBTQ community because it will protect their jobs and enable them to be open about their identities in their places of work. 

“Just like with any new law, there will probably be challenges to this, and there will be companies that think this doesn’t apply to them,” Spayd said. “But with the Supreme Court passing this, we think this will empower more people to feel safe about coming out at work.”

Knutti agreed that while the ruling might not prevent LGBTQ people from experiencing discrimination in the workplace entirely, it will set a crucial legal standard. 

“Even though I know laws don’t always do what they’re supposed to, they don’t necessarily protect people as much as they can, I think it’s super important because now at least there’s some form of legal protection,” she said. 

Katie Mattise, assistant director at Kent State’s LGBTQ+ Center, said the decision will help hold employers accountable for discriminatory practices and bring the country a step closer to providing LGBTQ people with equal rights.  

“This ruling is one step toward having LGBTQ+ folks across the United States have the same protections as our straight and cisgender peers,” they said.  

The National LGBTQ Workers Center reports that 4.5 percent of the United States’ population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and 88 percent of them are employed. But experts say statistics on self-reported identities do not capture the real total.

Knutti said the ruling will have a profound effect on the experiences of members of the LGBTQ community in the workforce. 

“I think [the ruling will] increase the community itself,” Knutti said. “It’s going to make people feel more comfortable coming out, having that protection.”

She said the ruling will also make it easier for companies to provide resources for LGBTQ employees. 

Ohio still needs to make improvements in terms of protections for LGBTQ people, Knutti said, particularly for minors and transgender individuals. She said conversion therapy, which is legal in Ohio, should be prohibited, especially for minors. 

In addition, Knutti said it should be easier for transgender people to change the gender stated on their birth certificates. Ohio is one of two states (the other is Tennesse) that does not allow transgender people to change their gender marker on their birth certificates. 

Similarly, Spayd said transgender rights in the United States still need improvements, particularly in health care. President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would be eliminating protections against discrimination in health care for transgender people. 

“We’re very excited about this, but the passing of this doesn’t mean that work for groups like PFLAG is over,” Spayd said. “There’s still more to be done, especially in the area of transgender rights.”

Mattise said it’s also important to see progress made in changing laws that negatively affect other marginalized groups. 

“Realistically, the LGBTQ+ community is part of every single community […] laws that don’t protect people of color, that don’t protect people with disabilities are also laws that don’t protect LGBTQ+ people,” Mattise said. “There’s innumerable ways and laws and policies that need to change in order for that equality and equity to actually act in.”

This article was produced through a reporting partnership with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University. Contact Paige Bennett at [email protected].