A gay pride flag hanging in the mosiac landscape of family photos in the office cubical. A transgender pin on the name tag of a Starbucks worker. They/them pronouns printed below the name on a name tag at a national conference. Simple and subtle, but a secret no longer. On June 15, a landmark 6-3 ruling in the Supreme Court changed the landscape for LGBTQ+ workers around the country. The majority opinion states, “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. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Supporters urge the Supreme Court to rule in Aimee Stephens' favor at the Protect LGBTQ+ Workers Rally on October 8, 2019.
Aimee Stephens, a trailblazer for trans rights. Her lawsuit won LGBTQ+ Americans federal protection against employment discrimination.
The fear of being fired has loomed over the LGBTQ+ community for years. To protect their jobs, many have had no choice but to masquerade as cisgender or heterosexual.. In 1953, President Eisenhower signed an executive order that banned ‘gay’ people on the basis of ‘sexual perversion’ in the federal government. Almost thirty years later and after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Wisconsin became the first state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. Even so, the Lavender Scare of the mid-20th century saw a mass exodus of LGBTQ+ workers from the government through covert means. Before this ruling, 29 states, including the state of Michigan, did not have discrimination protection acts in the workplace. The history of LGBTQ+ workers in the United States is riddled with witch hunts and accusations of blasphemy, and still many feel their identities need to be sheltered in order to stay protected.
Dying a year before this historic ruling, Aimee Stephens was the first transgender plaintiff the Supreme Court has heard from in its history and a civil rights acitivist for transgender rights. Stephens was a funeral home director in our own state of Michigan. She was fired from her funeral home position in 2013 after revealing she was transgender and would begin wearing the clothing that matched her identity. Her courage is etched in our hearts and her legacy is something we are beyond grateful for.
In the years to come, I will be hunting for a job in the landscape of a market that will be impacted greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming recession. Even so, I won’t have to hide my sexual orientation in the workplace any longer. As I've reminisced about my favorite musical, "Phantom of the Opera," I've thought a lot about how masks play a huge symbolic role in the identity of the main characters. I'm glad that masquerading as a straight man is a charade I won't have to act out. The only mask I will be wearing is one that covers my mouth and nose to ensure the health and safety of those around me. (Maybe one with a pride flag because why not!)