The LGBTQ community scores a win this week, but the fight isn’t over
On Monday, in a landmark win for the LGBTQ community, the United States Supreme Court affirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are prohibited under Title VII, meaning a person cannot be fired for being LGBTQ. This much-needed victory comes at a unique moment in our history that is challenging antiquated paradigms and highlighting the importance of the work ahead.
We are living in the middle of two crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and racial violence. The past few weeks have seen a rash of horrific violence against black people and LGBTQ people, as thousands — particularly those from marginalized communities — continue to lose their lives and their livelihoods to COVID-19. Our own federal government continues to target the rights of LGBTQ people.
The Human Rights Campaign has found that an overwhelming majority of transgender and gender non-conforming Americans violently killed since 2013 were black, and at least 15 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been killed this year alone. Just last week, two black trans women, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells and Riah Milton, were brutally killed. This weekend, we received news that a trans woman, Jayne Thompson, had been shot by a police officer last month. Yesterday, reports showed a trans woman, Selena Reyes-Hernandez, was shot and killed because she was trans.
This terrible violence does not occur in a vacuum. Just last Friday — on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting that killed 49 people — the Trump administration advanced regulations that seek to deny health care to LGBTQ people, with particular focus on the transgender community, by eliminating anti-discrimination health care protections. This administration went out of its way to attempt to remove basic health care protections from this vulnerable community. Notwithstanding the deeply offensive timing, Trump’s action is despicable and unlawful on the merits and will surely be challenged in court.
We also cannot ignore that this administration has been asleep at the wheel during the coronavirus crisis. COVID-19 has so far resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 Americans and has had a catastrophic impact on our economy. The tragic consequences have fallen disproportionately on our nation’s most vulnerable — black and LGBTQ people.
So as we celebrate and recognize Monday’s critical step towards full equality, we know that there is still more work to be done — from racial justice to economic justice to protecting our democracy from ruin. As it relates to the court’s decision, we must, among other things, work to pass the Equality Act and elect a president and a Senate who will make this pending legislation the law of the land.
Monday’s decisions impact areas of the law where Congress has prohibited sex discrimination, including in employment, housing, credit and education, but there are too many places in law that lack these protections. That’s why we need the Equality Act — which would codify protections for LGBTQ people in these areas of life as well as add much-needed protections for sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in public spaces and services, as well as federally-funded programs.
The bipartisan legislation has growing, unprecedented support, including from nearly 70 percent of Americans, hundreds of members of Congress, more than 250 major businesses, more than 500 social justice, religious, medical and child welfare organizations and more than 60 national trade associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on a strong, bipartisan vote of 236 to 173 in May of 2019.
Despite this bipartisan support, the Equality Act languishes in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s graveyard of bills and President Trump made his opposition to the bill clear. In this and so many other ways, our Senate leaders and the president continue to fail LGBTQ people and our entire nation.
Our nation is at a reckoning. For true and sustainable change, we must continue our shared fight for a future free of discrimination, one in which all of our lives are viewed as equal and every single person is able to thrive. We must push for the passage and signing of the Equality Act. For our democracy to function for all and for marginalized communities to be afforded with the dignity we deserve, our next step forward is clear: we must defeat Donald Trump and his anti-equality enablers in November.
We owe Monday’s victory to movement elders like Sylvia Rivera and Pauli Murray, countless advocates in the fight today, and the brave plaintiffs who brought their cases to the Supreme Court — Aimee Stephens, Don Zarda and Gerald Bostock. Aimee and Don did not live to see the outcome of their cases, and we are thankful to their families, who continued this fight in their names. In victory, we rejoice in recognition of our dignity. In advocacy, we prepare for the fight ahead to liberation.
Alphonso David is the president of the Human Rights Campaign. Follow him on Twitter @alphonsodavid.