U.S. Supreme Court Set Hears Arguments on Civil Rights Protections for LGBTQ Workers: raceAhead

October 8, 2019, 6:47 PM UTC

The civil rights activists in your networks have been preparing for this day for a long time.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars workplace discrimination “because of sex,” or “on the basis of sex,” also prevents discrimination against gay and transgender people. 

Today, they will begin hearing arguments in three cases that exemplify the issues faced by LGBTQ employees across the country. 

“For the LGBTQ civil rights movement, this is a big moment,” says James Esseks, Director, ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, in a blog post. “These cases will affect more people than the Supreme Court’s decision about the freedom to marry, and they potentially implicate a broader range of contexts in which LGBTQ people may face harm, if the Court green-lights discrimination.”

For 10 years, Gerald Bostock ran a program for Clayton County, Ga., which provided court advocates for abused and neglected children. “It was the job I loved, and my employer loved me doing the job,” he told NPR, noting that under his direction, his agency provided services to 100% of the children in foster care. He was fired after he joined a recreational softball team for gay men. “I lost my livelihood. I lost my medical insurance, and at the time I was fighting prostate cancer. It was devastating.”

Aimee Allison’s case will also be heard today. She worked as a funeral director for the Harris Funeral Home in Livonia, Mich., and excelled in her position for six years before she decided the pain of presenting as a man was too great. It took her eight months to work up the courage to tell her boss and colleagues of her gender identity. “I have realized that some of you may have trouble understanding this,” she wrote, adding, “[i]n truth, I have had to live with it every day of my life, and even I do not fully understand it myself.” She was fired two weeks after she submitted her heartfelt letter.

In an interview taped by his lawyers the owner of Harris Funeral Homes said Allison was “the face of the Harris Funeral Home,” and he’d been concerned how his customers would react. 

You can learn more about the specific cases here

While this is the first big test of how the new Supreme Court thinks about LGBTQ rights, they’re also in a position to reverse longestablished protections that will impact lots and lots of people. 

Vox has an excellent explainer of how broadly Title VII has been interpreted in the past and what’s at stake now:

“In 1989, the Supreme Court held that gender stereotyping is itself a form of sex discrimination—a woman may not be fired, for example, because her bosses deem her too masculine in appearance or conduct. Yet, as one federal appeals court explained in 2017, same-sex attraction is ‘the ultimate case of failure to conform‘ to a gender stereotype. Something very similar could be said about the stereotypical view that all people’s gender must align with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Thus, if the Supreme Court holds that it is lawful to discriminate against gay or trans workers, it could upend the 30-year-old rule against gender stereotyping. All workers—straight or queer; trans, cis, or non-binary—could become less secure in their jobs. And even if the Court does not go that far, it would be difficult to rule against these plaintiffs without carving out a significant exception to the broad rule that sex stereotyping is not allowed.”

Observed through this lens, there is reason to hope that justice will prevail. But the fact that people are as worried as they are is a disturbing sign of a dangerous time.

If you’re an ally to LGBTQ colleagues, now is a good time to say it loud and proud.


On Point

The future of work for Black Americans: grim This is the finding of a new report from McKinsey titled "The Future of Work in Black America," which specifically examines the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on the Black workforce. Come to find out that Black workers are more likely to be living in geographic areas and working in jobs that are disproportionately more likely to be eliminated by automation. In this report, they build on an extensive examination of both the racial wealth gap and the employment gap experienced by Black and white workers. "African Americans…[experience an] unemployment rate twice that of white workers, a pattern that persists even when controlling for education, duration of unemployment, and the cause of unemployment," the authors say. Then, they establish a predictive scenario that suggests that African Americans are not only set to be replaced, but physically removed from future “job growth centers.” The report is a must read from authors Kelemwork Cook, Duwain Pinder, Shelley Stewart III, Amaka Uchegbu, and Jason Wright. (We’ll be catching up with two of them for a longer interview.)

Jail time for oversleeping? He thought a fine would be the worst of it, says Deandre Somerville after missing jury duty because he overslept. Instead, he got 10 days in jail. After failing to show up for the start of a case, Judge John S. Kastrenakes held 21-year-old Somerville in contempt, and along with the jail time, put him on a year’s probation. While an appeal filed later by Somerville lawyer’s lawyer lead to a reduced sentence, it wasn’t until Somerville read a (judge-ordered) letter of apology that Kastrenakes announced him as "totally rehabilitated." The judge does stand by his initial decision though—it’s a lesson to take jury duty seriously, he says. Critics just see it as overkill.
New York Times

Supreme Court declines to review Puerto Rico ‘pension fund dispute’ By deciding not to consider an appeal from the Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 2019 decision that bondholders—who hold almost $3 billion in debt—have a “legitimate claim” to Puerto Rico’s Employees Retirement System assets. It’s a decision that comes as Puerto Rico’s “bankruptcy enters a major new phase,” says Reuters, and ignores the fact that documents had the name of pension fund listed incorrectly.

Does China have a vise grip on corporate America? Yes, argues Erica Pandey at Axios. At issue is the tweet heard 'round China after Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Mosey tweeted, then apologized for, a sentiment of solidarity for the pro-democracy Hong Kong protestors. "It's China using its market power to bully American companies and organizations in broad daylight—and muzzle free speech," she argues. Other companies to fall afoul of Beijing include Marriott, American, United, Delta, and The Gap, all for some version of not listing Taiwan as a separate country. One expert says holding fast to your principles is pointless. "It's an authoritarian government, and the Communist Party is in control," says Bonnie Glaser from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They are able to have impact on what their citizens do, and they can mobilize their citizens to hold boycotts, if they want do that."

On Background

Black, gay, and fighting for his life Buzzfeed editor Saeed Jones has long been a powerful voice on race and identity, but this outstanding review of his new memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives, makes clear that his backstory is just as powerful and beautifully rendered. Reviewed by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a professor at work on a book on identities and belief systems, it becomes clear that Jones has a unique ability to parse the violence and shame of coming to terms with himself while growing up in a world where "being a black gay boy is a death wish." The many confessional stories comprise "countless sentences in a moving and bracingly honest memoir that reads like fevered poetry," he says. "Jones is fascinated by power (who has it, how and why we deploy it), but he seems equally interested in tenderness and frailty. We wound and save one another, we try our best, we leave too much unsaid."
New York Times Book Review

Brains of jazz musicians are literally different from classical musicians Not only that, they register different brain activity even when they are playing the same piece of music. A study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences involving 30 pianists, half trained in jazz, half in classical music. The study breaks down the two basic steps in playing the piano: What they plan to play, or, the key they’re going to press, and how they will play it, or, which finger they plan to use. Jazz musicians focus on the what, while classical musicians focus on the how. The brain scan showed heightened activity that corresponded with key strengths, like improvisation for jazz artists, and technique for classical ones. But you hepcats knew this already.
Classic FM

The big, big business of white supremacy I’m re-upping this video op-ed from Akala, an English rapper, poet, author, historian ,and activist, who tackles every day racism by linking it with centuries of marketing. "White Jesus" gets a shout-out, as does the slave trade, white savior motifs in films, and the news media’s willingness to portray people of color as drug dealers and thugs. But at issue here is the multi-billion-dollar skin bleaching industry. (Forty percent of Chinese women and 77% of Nigerian women bleach their skin, according to the World Health Organization.) "Everyday racism is the normalized experience that we encounter daily based on our difference from the white norm," he says. "Now in the context of global injustice, these might seem trivial, but in fact, these daily hostilities lay the ground for much larger systemic violence."


Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

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"As a closeted high-school student in Cleveland, Ohio, in the early 1980s; as a closeted college student here at Harvard in the mid 1980s; and as an only slightly-less-closeted law student at Columbia in the late 1980s—if you had told me that one day I would marry a woman, have a child, win a civil rights case about marriage equality before the Supreme Court, and then start my own law firm, I would have responded to you that you were completely insane. But while there’s a lot that you cannot predict or control, there’s also plenty that you can."

Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who defeated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the landmark 2013 Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor.

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