On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about whether employers are allowed to discriminate against their employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The trio of cases concern two gay men and a transgender woman, all of whom argue they were illegally fired.
The argument hangs on how the justices choose to interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law prohibits discrimination based on a number of qualities, including “on the basis of sex.”
Sen. Cory Booker, who has worked on a federal law that would explicitly protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, has said for years that all vulnerable groups should have their rights acknowledged and protected by the government.
He reiterated with reporters last night that he has a personal connection.
“I’m here because my rights were fought for by people who believed African Americans in this country should have equal rights and equal protections under the law,” he said in Clive, when asked about the Supreme Court case.
There Could Be A Law
In 2015, and again this year, both chambers of Congress introduced the Equality Act, which explicitly states that sexual orientation and gender identity are bases for protection.
Both times, Booker was one of three senators who brought it to the Senate.
In May, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, explicitly protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Booker sits.
“I do not believe we should live in a country where someone, based upon their sexual orientation, should be able to be fired from their job, denied housing, accommodations,” Booker said. “That, to me, is unacceptable and I don’t care what title I have, what position I have, I will always fight against that.”
If he’s elected president, Booker said he would do everything in his power to make the Equality Act law.
In May, he said, “We cannot profess to be a nation of liberty and justice for all when our fellow Americans are discriminated against simply because of who they are and who they love. The Equality Act fixes this injustice by clarifying that federal civil rights law protects LGBT Americans.”
Though there isn’t a federal law protecting LGBTQ employees, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s policy, as of 2015, is to recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected under Title VII.
From their website: “EEOC interprets and enforces Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. These protections apply regardless of any contrary state or local laws.”
Across the country, 52% of LGBTQ people live in states that don’t explicitly protect them from being fired, overlooked for promotion or harassed for being gay or transgender.
In the United States, only about 20 states plus the District of Columbia have full protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Iowa is among them.
A study done by the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobby, reports 45% of LGBTQ employees think enforcement of nondiscrimination policies is based on their employer’s personal feelings.
It also says the majority of LGBTQ workers don’t report negative comments because they don’t think anything will be done.
The argument supposes that when Congress wrote the 1964 Civil Rights Act, they weren’t thinking of LGBTQ protections.
Back in 2015, the first time the Equality Act was introduced, Booker explained why the country needed it.
“Brave men and women in every generation throughout America’s history have mustered the conviction to fight for freedom and equality against all odds — from abolitionists and suffragettes to civil rights activists,” Booker said at the time. “With each fight for justice, ordinary people have challenged our nation to become a more perfect union. The Equality Act builds on the work of those who have struggled and fought for LGBT rights by extending basic civil rights protections that must be guaranteed to every American.”
By Nikoel Hytrek
Photo by Julie Fleming