SALT LAKE CITY – LGBTQ rights have come a long way in the United States, but two cases being heard in the Supreme Court could have enormous consequences for the workplace protections of LGBTQ employees.
The historic decision rests on how the Supreme Court justices will ultimately interpret federal Title VII protections against discrimination based on sex when it comes to gay and transgender employees. One of the cases involves two gay men who say they were fired because of their orientation, while the plaintiff in the other case, a transgender woman, says she was fired over her gender status.
The final rulings will determine if it is indeed legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which could affect 88% of the 11 million people who identify as LGBTQ in the United States.
At the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, the importance of education and visibility of trans people as a way to bring about more compassion and fight discrimination is a common topic.
"I believe our visibility is what helps to educate people to understand us and accept us,” said Sue Robbins, a trans woman who is the current chair of Transgender Education Advocates of Utah and the past chair of the Utah Pride Center. “I believe that our existence is very educational and I think there are youth out there that even some older individuals that see our existence and if they see us thriving then it gives them something to hold on to or to say that can be me.”
Ermiya, a social activist who has worked closely with the Utah Pride Center, the ACLU, and Equality Utah working on LGBTQ political issues explains how she continuously reminds people that trans people are not a monolith. “We are multiplicities and complexities. We are scientists and teachers and advocates and so much more, and we transcend this label “transgender” – really that’s what we are, we are transcenders, because we exist in all these place(s)."
Becca, a local news web producer added “I had a friend whose sister, her young daughter is trans and I guess just by existing I was able to open her eyes to a different way to approach her daughter. And when I think about the impact that would have had on my life as a child it seems irresponsible to just hide.”
Ermiya expressed the need for trans people to continue to fight for trans rights and civil liberties, in addition to being on Capitol Hill in efforts to put a face to pieces of legislation. She also expressed frustration that a lot of trans youth face when it comes to politics.
“In my experience working with trans youth I have noticed a lot of trans youth think it’s tiring and emotionally draining to always have to constantly politicize their identities.”
Isaac, a volunteer with the education department and the TransAction program at the Utah Pride Center, says that living authentically is the most important thing. "All of us are part of this human tapestry of rich experience and a rich possibility. You either respect, admire and nurture us as people or you don’t. That’s the line."
“I have a saying that I always love to give and that is that education leads to knowledge, knowledge leads to understanding and greater understanding will bring social change. So it all starts back at the education and people understanding who we are and what our needs are, and we will get the social change that we need,” Sue concluded.