The evangelical-led Trump administration has been waging a war against transgender people since 2016, but the way they responded to a Supreme Court case involving anti-trans discrimination may be the most horrifying defense of bigotry yet.
The case in question involves Aimee Australia Stephens, a transgender woman, who spent six years working as a funeral director and embalmer in Detroit. In 2013, she told her colleagues and employers at RG & GR Harris Funeral Home that she would go through sex-reassignment surgery so that her outward appearance matched her true gender.
The proper response would have been, “We wish you the best.” Or maybe “We can’t wait to have you back at work!” Or maybe “This is none of my goddamn business, but more power to you.”
Instead, owner Thomas F. Rost fired her.
Stephens later filed a lawsuit against her employer with two specific allegations: that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by firing her for being transgender, and that they violated sex discrimination laws by saying she was fired for refusing to wear a suit (which was required of all male employees). The first allegation was rejected altogether because a court said discrimination on the basis of gender identity was not banned by Title VII, so you couldn’t argue otherwise. The second one has been the basis of a lengthy legal battle.
In 2016, a federal judge said the funeral home didn’t violate the law by firing an employee who wanted to dress as a woman. While discrimination could be argued, the judge said, the employer’s religious rights allowed for it under the law. To put it another way, the employers’ faith, which compelled them to make men wear suits at work, was deemed more important than the right of a female employee to not wear a suit.
An appeals court later (thankfully) overturned that ruling. They said Stephens was a victim of discrimination and that her wanting to wear a dress didn’t burden her employers enough that the religious trump card kicked in.
Now the Supreme Court’s going to weigh in, and the Trump administration issued a brief calling for SCOTUS to overturn the ruling. They want religious business owners to have the right to fire transgender employees. Just because. But they’re going even further by calling for the Supreme Court to make sex discrimination legal regardless of what Title VII says.
In short, the government is saying that when Title VII prohibits sex discrimination, it really means “biological sex.” So firing trans people at will ought to be totally fine.
Dominic Holden at BuzzFeed explains that this is all coming from the Christian Right’s playbook:
The administration’s argument against LGBTQ rights matches the advocacy of conservative Christian groups, which claim Congress only intended to ban discrimination because someone is male or female — saying the sexes cannot be treated differently. Their argument says interpreting the term “sex” more broadly effectively rewrites the law, and only Congress, not courts, has that license.
The counterargument from LGBTQ advocates and several lower courts, however, is that the intent of lawmakers does not limit a law’s reach, but rather its meaning is defined by the statute’s plain text. They say anti-transgender discrimination can result from a person defying traditional sex stereotypes or because the person transitioned from one sex to another — and thus, it is inherently a type of sex discrimination.
That latter argument makes sense. Stephens was fired for, say, wanting to wear a dress, but a cis woman who wanted to wear a dress would still have a job. Stephens was fired, then, for not fitting a gender-based stereotype. That’s sex discrimination. It’s like firing a woman for having short hair.
If the government gets its wish — which is to say, if white evangelical Christians get their wish — then it could become open season for Christian business owners to fire transgender people for the crime of merely existing. (In which case the rest of us should openly refuse to do business with bigoted owners — and to make sure the world knows which businesses are run by those people.)
If all that wasn’t enough, a separate brief filed by the Christian hate group Alliance Defending Freedom took a “sky is falling” approach to what the country would look like if you couldn’t fire trans people.
“It will deny women and girls fair opportunities to compete in sports, to ascend to the winner’s podium, and to receive critical scholarships,” the ADF brief states. “It will also require domestic-abuse shelters to allow men to sleep in the same room as female survivors of rape and violence. And it may dictate that doctors and hospitals provide transition services even in violation of their religious beliefs.”
See? This is about protecting female athletes! And domestic abuse victims! And doctors!
The people who have earned a reputation for not giving a damn about anyone who doesn’t think just like they do want you to believe they now care about the whole world. (Also, I assure you no trans person has ever forced a doctor to perform a transition service against his or her will. That sounds… like a horrible idea.)
The oral arguments for this case and two others that involve similar issues will occur in early October. Given the Court’s makeup, there’s no reason to be optimistic about what the justices will do.
Never vote for a Republican. The GOP’s only policy goal is to inflict pain on people who disagree with them. LGBTQ people will suffer more than most, and this is just the latest example of it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Portions of this article were published earlier)