ST. GEORGE — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender, marking a major victory for members of the LGBTQ community.
In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court affirmed that gender identity and sexual orientation are protected characteristics under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. According to a release by the Human Rights Campaign, Monday’s decision ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status are forms of sex discrimination.
While around half of the country, including Utah, has state or local laws prohibiting workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, there was no federal law explicitly barring LGBTQ workers from being fired for that reason.
Members of the LGBTQ community and allies across Southern Utah and the state shared their reactions to the decision with St. George News.
“We are overwhelmed with joy today. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that companies no longer have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans in the workplace,” Executive Director of Equality Utah, Troy Williams, said in an email statement Monday.
Locally, joy turned to elation for longtime LGBTQ ally and Mama Dragon, Linda Stay.
“I am more than elated by this decision,” she said, adding that it will have a profound impact on the LGBTQ community in more ways than one.
“Most importantly it sends the message to LGBTQ people that they are worth protecting, that they are seen and valued. It acknowledges their right to show up in the workplace as their authentic selves,” Stay said.
Gorsuch, a conservative appointee of President Donald Trump, was joined by fellow conservative Chief Justice John Roberts as well as the ruling court’s four more liberal judges, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.
For Stay, the decision is even more hopeful because of the support of Gorsuch and Roberts, she said.
“What is even more pertinent for me, is the fact that Gorsuch and Roberts joined the majority and Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion,” Stay said. “This brings my heart extreme joy and hope that the tide truly is changing, that the years of advocating and educating are having an impact.”
When Bobby Edwards, CEO and co-founder of Squatty Potty and member of the LGBTQ community learned of the decision, his reaction was more straightforward.
“That’s equal protection under the law,” Edwards said, adding that it all boils down to whether a person believes that being gay is a choice or not.
“I believe it’s not a choice,” Edwards said. “So why should you get fired for it?”
Proud Mama Dragon and Encircle St. George Advisory Board Co-Chair Jill Mortensen echoed Edwards, saying the decision sends a clear message that employment discrimination defies the law.
“This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that all LGBTQ Americans are now legally protected from employment discrimination. They stated in strong, clear language that, ‘an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,'” she said.
While Mortensen said she considers Monday’s decision a “victory for humanity,” she recognized that there is still a lot of work to be done to forward equality for LGBTQ citizens.
“Discrimination is alive and well in places such as restaurants, stores, lodging and within federally funded programs such as adoption agencies. We must continue to come together as a community and persist in working toward equality for all LGBTQ individuals,” Mortensen said.
St. George resident and member of the LGBTQ community Jessie Ann said she has experienced firsthand healthcare, employment and public discrimination.
“They (people) have assumed that because they do not face discrimination that it isn’t happening. But it is. And it is happening even here in St. George,” Ann said, adding that while she is grateful for LGBTQ allies, it is important that they stay in the fight for the long haul.
“It is imperative that our allies not go back to sleep. Many of them sort of left the fight towards equality after marriage equality passed and many of my own friends genuinely didn’t know that LGBTQIA+ people are still not a federally protected class,” she said. “We need them to understand that the 14th Amendment does not protect us still, and we need them to support and fight for us.”
In the Equality Utah statement, Williams said there is still a long way to go, not only for the LGBTQ community but to combat other forms of inequality, including systemic racism both legally and culturally.
“As we celebrate this major victory, we recognize that it comes in the midst of a global pandemic and a moment when our state and nation are grappling with both the legal and cultural systems of racism,” the statement said.
The statement continued as follows:
Our state and our nation, at every level, needs to address the racism that perpetuates discrimination and violence against black people – and all people of color, including those who are LGBTQ – even when such discrimination and violence are formally prohibited by law. Even with today’s decision, black LGBTQ people will still face disproportionate discrimination across their lives. Until our laws remedy systemic racism and inequality, and our culture catches up to those laws, our movement’s pursuit of LGBTQ equality is far from done.”
Williams said in the statement that today is a day to cheer and celebrate, and tomorrow they get back to work.
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