Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
By now you may have heard about the slate of United States Supreme Court arguments scheduled for October 8th. It has been touted as one of the biggest days for LGBTQ legal rights in history, and it will definitely be a day that many of us will spend anxiously watching social media and news outlets for updates on the proceedings. It may be helpful to go into October 8th understanding the cases at hand and what happens after the arguments are heard.
There are three cases being heard that day, each relating to LGBTQ discrimination:
Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda
Donald Zarda was a skydiving instructor in Calverton, New York. In June of 2010 he was fired. Upon his termination, Donald’s supervisor stated that he was fired for “sharing inappropriate information” about his personal life with a client. Donald said that he informed a client he was gay in a lighthearted comment during a skydiving jump. The lower court (2nd Circuit) found that Donald’s employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which the court found to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Sadly, Donald died in 2014 during a BASE jump in Switzerland. His family is carrying the case forward to the Supreme Court in his memory.
Bostock v. Clayton County
Gerald Bostock was a distinguished government employee in Jonesboro, Georgia working as a child welfare services coordinator in the juvenile court system for nearly 10 years. In 2013 he joined a local LGBTQ softball league, leading some coworkers and supervisors to make negative comments. Three months after joining the LGBTQ group, Gerald was fired. He is appealing the decision of the lower court (11th Circuit) which held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Aimee Stephens
Aimee Stephens, a funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan, was fired after she came out as trans to her employer. The owner of the funeral home informed her that presenting herself authentically was “unacceptable” in the workplace. In March 2018 the lower court (6th Circuit) ruled that the funeral home violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when they fired Aimee. The Supreme Court will decide if Title VII protects transgender people from discrimination under its protections on the basis of sex.
So what happens next?
We will have a long wait, as the final decision from the Supreme Court is not expected until June 2020. However, one consideration is the parallel legislative track of the Equality Act. This federal bill would ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, which is the central issue in all three cases.
What can we do?
The most important thing to do now is to raise awareness about these cases. We need to send a strong message to lawmakers and courts that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation is wrong.
Discrimination hurts our families, our friends, and our communities. Upholding and passing basic human rights for LGBTQ people is not only the right thing to do, but the necessary thing to do under our Jewish tradition. Dignity, equality, and fairness can not wait any longer.