On June 15, in a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled employers cannot discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or transgender status. The decision is a major win for LGBTQ activists, both in Idaho and around the country.
“This is truly a landmark victory for all Americans and Idahoans,” said ACLU-Idaho Legal Director Richard Eppink. “This isn’t about some kind of special protections for a group of people: It’s about rights for everyone.”
The opinion of the court states that an employer firing someone because they are transgender or homosexual is, in fact, discrimination in the eyes of the law.
Its decision hinges on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which addresses the intersection of civil rights and the workplace. The court wrote that although the congress that passed it may not have forseen its application to LGBTQ issues, there’s “no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”
The cases that contributed to the court’s decision were brought by Gerald Bostock, in the case Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, who was fired shortly after participating in a gay softball league; Donald Zarda, in the case Altitude Express Inc., v. Zarda, who was fired after mentioning he was gay to a customer; and Aimee Stephens, in the case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a transgender woman who lost her job when she began coming to work dressed in accordance with her gender identity. Now, the court has ruled that these dismissals were discriminatory and unconstitutional.
“An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions,” wrote Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. “That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
In Idaho, the ruling has been celebrated by the nonprofit organization Add the Words, which has lobbied the Idaho Legislature to add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to its 1960s-era human rights law; but the chair of the organization, Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, said this is also a time to acknowledge that work still needs to be done. Until the ruling, Idaho was one of 28 states that didn’t provide protections to LGBTQ people for discrimination in the workplace, education and housing.
Federal law offers some protections for LGBTQ people but there are many areas where LGBTQ people are left vulnerable to discrimination; and Add the Words and ACLU-Idaho have urged people to help pass the Equality Act, which would protect against discrimination in areas not covered by the current ruling.
Gaona-Lincoln added that the fight for LGBTQ civil rights has long been fought in parallel to other civil rights movements. The June 15 Supreme Court win has been a cause for joy, she said, but she also balances that jubilation with an awareness that more work remains to be done.
“It’s definitely exciting and we’re holding celebration, but thinking about other communities as well,” said Gaona-Lincoln.
Idaho has been at the forefront of opposing the advancement of LGBTQ issues. During the push for marriage equality in Idaho, then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter created a legal war chest to defend the Gem State’s same-sex marriage ban; when a bill that would “add the words” appeared in the House State Affairs Committee, it was voted down on party lines. More recently, Gov. Brad Little directed the State of Idaho to appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s decision ordering the state to perform gender reassignment surgery on a transgender inmate.
Gaona-Lincoln said the Idaho Legislature has sat on the wrong side of history. The State of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed an amicus brief in September of 2019 opposing protections for people fired due to their gender identities or sexual orientations.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office did not have a comment on the decision.