What the Supreme Court Decision About Gender Means for You (And Your Workplace)

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On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on three cases of gay or transgender employees being fired by their employers due to their sexuality or gender identities.[1] The ruling states that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay, lesbian, and transgender people under its prohibition of “discrimination on the basis of sex.” This was a watershed moment for LGBTQ people around the world, as only 21 states provide non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexuality and gender identity.

When LGBTQ people are supported in their identities at work, they are happier, healthier, and more committed to their jobs.[2] LGBTQ people are employed in every industry, and have important knowledge, skills, and professional experience to share. With more and more public media representation of LGBTQ people, and with sexuality and gender identity frameworks changing rapidly, it is more important than ever for employers and employees alike to understand the lived realities of LGBTQ people, and to know their rights and obligations under the law.

I include information about state and federal workplace non-discrimination protections in my workplace LGBTQ 101, Gender and Pronoun 101, Advanced LGBTQ/Gender and Pronoun sessions, and my Cultural Humility courses. We discuss our own identities in the context of protected classes, and the common language and behaviors that violate these statutes. Often people are not familiar with the language and behavior that constitutes differential treatment under the law based on identity. Even the most well-informed ally could unintentionally make mistakes that can make their colleagues and clients uncomfortable, perhaps in ways that break the law. 

Of course, legal obligation is not the primary reason I believe people should make an effort to educate themselves about gender—it’s about basic respect for our colleagues and community members. Furthermore, we each have a sex assigned at birth, a gender expression, a gender identity, and a sexual orientation. We each construct our identities through making meaning out of these parts of ourselves, and each of us is shaped, sometimes in harmful ways, by messages we get about sexuality and gender. Enforcement of stereotypes based on gender or sexuality hurts all of us, and can impact our business’ bottom line.

[1] Sexual orientation cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., and Altitude Express v. Zarda. Gender identity case: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC.

[2] Badgett, et. al., The Business Impact of LGBT-Supportive Work Policies; Williams Institute, May 2013.

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