Monday, July 6, 2020

'There's a much longer fight ahead of us': MSU community reacts to Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ+ employees

June 22, 2020
<p>Rally attendees hold up pride flags and peace signs during the 2019 Michigan Pride Rally at the Michigan Capitol on June 15, 2019.</p>

Rally attendees hold up pride flags and peace signs during the 2019 Michigan Pride Rally at the Michigan Capitol on June 15, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections for LGBTQ+ employees from workplace discrimination. MSU LGBT Resource Center, or LGBTRC, Director Jesse Beal said this is a long sought and unexpected victory for LGBTQ+ civil rights.

"While this is a really, incredibly important win, it's just one win, and there's a much longer fight ahead of us," Beal said.

This ruling involves multiple cases in which an employer allegedly fired an employee for being gay or transgender. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is held this is unlawful.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states it is unlawful "for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," according to the ruling.

This ruling involved considering the definition of "sex" under Title VII. Under this recent ruling, it includes gender identity and sexual orientation.

Improving the workplace for transgender students, staff and faculty at MSU

Elijah Persson-Gordon, an executive board member of MSU TransAction, said the supreme court's ruling felt good. However, he said it was disappointing it had not happened sooner.

"Even though workplace discrimination might be more illegal now, it's important to recognize that not all of us are going to speak up about when we face that because we're still scared that it won't be viewed as a big enough issue," MSU plant biology sophomore Persson-Gordon said. "I know for me it was scary even having a boss that I wanted to call me the correct pronouns because I didn't want to feel pushy."

Persson-Gordon said employers at MSU should create goals around diversity, equity and inclusion with supervisors who ensure the university reaches them.

Additionally, he said space should be created for faculty, students and staff to express the issues they've had that may not "be as pressing as something that could get somebody fired and might not be as pressing as something that would need an investigation."

Regulations decreasing transgender patient protections and on campus facilities

This landmark ruling intersects with the finalization of a regulation under the Trump administration that erases protections for transgender individuals against discrimination by healthcare professionals, as reported by The New York Times.

"It's disappointing obviously, but it's like you don't even feel that surprised because trans people are still up for debate, especially non-binary people," Persson-Gordon said. "Going through so many hoops in the medical field is normalized for trans people."

In terms of next steps, Persson-Gordon said he wants more protective legislation for the transgender community.

However, he said there are changes to be made on campus.

"At a local level, on a personal level, I wish cis people just tried harder or tried at all," Persson-Gordon said. "On campus getting your ID questioned, having people do double takes at you, having people misgender you constantly, having teachers not be corrected. The same happens with healthcare on campus."

Healthcare on campus forces transgender students to be more diligent in ensuring they get proper care, Persson-Gordon said. He said doctors, nurses and receptionists are not properly trained in speaking to preferred pronouns, based on his personal experience.

"There is a certain amount of training that has to be had because there is vocabulary and etiquette that you have to know, especially as a doctor," Persson-Gordon said.

MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services Counselor, or CAPS, and LGBTRC Liaison Ginny Blakely said campus health professionals go through different training dependent on their position.

"I'm aware that we've actually had some complaints and some problems with people not receiving the best care and not receiving competent care," Blakely said.

Training for campus health professionals is currently in transition, Blakely said. In the past, Blakely said training was done through LGBTRC's Queer Inclusive Leadership and Learning, or QuILL.

Currently, a team titled the Trans Health Team is working with the LGBTRC to develop a training curriculum tailored toward health providers, Blakely said. The Trans Health Team works under MSU CAPS and Olin Health Center.

Persson-Gordon said cisgender community members need to start thinking from different perspectives to create a comfortable space for transgender individuals.

"When approaching pronouns, people are going to tell you to ask, but then what happens is that cis people just ask the people who they think look trans," Persson-Gordon said. "For trans people, gender can be at the front of their minds more easily than for cis people. For cis people, they have so much privilege they don't even acknowledge, like especially when it comes to just feeling comfortable in any type of space. Whereas, you have to start thinking from different perspectives."

One case featured in this ruling involves Michigander Aimee Stephens.

"R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer that she planned to 'live and work full-time as a woman,'" according to the ruling.

Stephens was a former funeral director in Detroit before she was fired in 2013, according to the New York Times. She died last month.

Next steps in improving LGBTQ+ civil rights

"There's some key things we need to be working on and one is the passage of the Equality Act, which would update several existing civil rights laws, including the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and several more to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity," Beal said.

Beal said that the recent Supreme Court ruling means they cannot be fired for their sexual or gender identity. However, Beal said they can still be denied services, healthcare and evicted.

"If I lose my housing, I can be denied a bed in a homeless shelter all because of my gender or my sexual identity," Beal said. "That really matters, so this is so incredibly important."

The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act also needs to be amended to include LGBTQ+ protections, Beal said.

"I think it's important to remind folks that up until Monday, it was totally legal for, in more than half of our states in our country, to fire someone for their gender or sexual identity," Beal said. "I think a lot of people don't realize that we don't have a nationwide anti-discrimination law that covers LGBTQIA+ identity."

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