On Oct. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court heard three cases that could end protections for LGBTQ employees in the United States.
In each of the three cases brought up to the Supreme Court — Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC — the employers dismissed their employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. In both Zarda and Bostock, the employees Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock allege their employers fired them because their employers discovered the men were gay. In the Harris Funeral Homes case, the employee — Aimee Stephens, a trans woman — was fired because her boss claimed that it would be against his religion for Stephens “to deny (her) sex while acting as a representative of (the) organization.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from being discriminated against based on their race, color, religion, national origin or sex. In previous Supreme Court cases, “sex” discrimination has been interpreted as not discriminating based on gender identity. Now, the Supreme Court will decide if the language “sex” in Title VII covers sexual orientation.
The University’s chapter of College Democrats came out strongly in support of the Supreme Court including sexual orientation as a part of civil rights. Camille Mancuso, communications director of College Democrats, emphasized the importance of the decision.
“LGBTQ+ rights are civil rights,” Mancuso said. “From the inability of same-sex couples to adopt children, to being fired in the workplace for one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, to the murder of trans women of color across the country, the rights of LGBTQ+ folks are constantly being threatened. The Supreme Court must protect the rights of these individuals, and including the protection of sexual orientation under Title VII is a necessary step in the work to achieve full LGBTQ+ equality. Without such protections, LGBTQ+ folks will be discriminated against, targeted, and forced to choose between living authentically and making a living for themselves and their families.”
LSA senior Alyson Grigsby, co-chair of the Coalition for Queer and Trans People of Color, also said they were worried that the if the Supreme Court decides not to protect sexual orientation, it could lead to members of the LBGTQ community being unable to be comfortable in the workplace.
“(It would) affect me depending on … how I would choose to present myself to work or my partner,” Grigsby said. “Am I fully able to be authentic in the workplace?”
Grigsby also added the decision could impact how LBGTQ members present themselves in their work environments.
“Even with things like presentation, depending on where you work at,” Grigsby said. “Your gender presentation — that could get you potential discrimination.”
Mark Chung Kwan Fan, the assistant director for engagement for the Unversity’s Spectrum Center, explained how students who have felt adversely affected by LGBTQ discrimination can turn to the center’s resources.
“The Spectrum Center is professionalized in being able to support (students) no matter what type of concern they are going through,” Chung Kwan Fan said. “They might be going through, let’s say a financial concern, because maybe they’ve been disowned by their family, right? We can help with that. Looking for resources, a transition of sorts, we work hard to get help with that. One of the things that we do here is to be able to make bridges and gaps between resources.”
Chung Kwan Fan added these national issues often impact students’ day-to-day lives, and the Spectrum Center can help students navigate these difficulties on campus.
“So when those national issues are happening right now, whether that is work discrimination and women’s condition or whether to (it is) be able to use different bathrooms, or being fired because of your identities, all of those things, we are able to help typically in regards to how they can navigate campus, especially, when these national issues are happening,” Chung Kwan Fan said.
LSA senior Konrat Pekkip, co-chair of Stonewall Democrats, noted the impact of the Supreme Court decision will disproportionately affect LGBTQ members in underprivileged communities.
“Institutionalized homophobia is a lot more of an issue when it intersects with poverty,” Pekkip said. “It probably won’t affect me personally, because I am very privileged, because I have a degree, or I will have a degree, from the University of Michigan. Overall, I’m in an economically secure place. But a lot of people are not as privileged as I am.”
Pekkip hopes people will look beyond their own communities to understand long-term effects.
“I think it’s not only important to think about the people you know in your personal life and how they can be affected but think about the broader picture and think about those people who you don’t interact with,” Pekkip said.
This article has been updated to correct Alyson’s Grisby’s pronouns.