CHARLESTON, SC - August 2019 — Officials in South Carolina signed onto a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on August 23 asking the court to rule against three individuals who had been fired for being LGBTQ. The three cases include the first transgender civil rights case to be heard by the high court.
“Once again, Attorney General Alan Wilson has shown that he is out-of-touch with the majority of South Carolinians who support the idea no one should be fired because of who they are,” says Susan Dunn, ACLU of South Carolina Legal Director. “This is a cruel, unnecessary move that does nothing to strengthen our state’s economy and grow our workforce. If President Trump and Attorney General Wilson get their way at the Supreme Court, it will give the Trump administration permission to take even more dangerous actions against transgender people, including denying health care or kicking people out of their homes. It would put children and families at risk.”
The employees in these cases, including ACLU clients Aimee Stephens who was fired for being transgender and Don Zarda who was fired for being gay, have argued that discrimination against LGBTQ people is unlawful sex discrimination. Many federal circuit courts have held that the Civil Rights Act and other federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination protect LGBTQ people, as have dozens of state and federal district courts.
“Many in the transgender community already face incredible barriers to long-term, meaningful employment due to living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. Statistics show that transgender individuals experience higher levels of unemployment and employment insecurity, and those who are employed are often compensated less than their cisgender peers. We aren’t asking for special treatment. We are simply asking to be able to live free from fear of being fired for who we are. Taking the step to legalize discrimination based on a person’s gender identity is not only hurtful to trans people, in the end, it’s bad for business,” says Chase Glenn, Executive Director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, a Charleston-based social justice organization achieving equality and acceptance for LGBTQ+ people.
Advocates say that a victory in these cases would be just one step towards achieving comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community nationwide. While several cities in South Carolina have express protections against discrimination based upon sexual preference or sexual identity, nationwide, two-thirds of LGBTQ people report discrimination.
“With the Trump Administration’s relentless attacks on LGBTQ equality, the need to pass the Equality Act to provide comprehensive, express federal protections for LGBTQ people nationwide is greater than ever,” said Susan Dunn, ACLU of South Carolina Legal Director. “Federal law doesn’t currently prohibit sex discrimination in some critical areas, like public accommodations and federally-funded programs so, no matter how the Supreme Court rules, we will still need Congress to act to provide such comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people and for all women.”
The cases will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on October 8.