Interfaith Alliance
(Photo courtesy of Interfaith Alliance)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that it is illegal for an employer to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, delivering a major victory in the fight for civil rights for LGBTQ people.

June is the LGBTQ community’s Pride Month, and a recent Supreme Court decision provides a special reason to celebrate. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Michigan website says it all: “Landmark victory — SCOTUS rules it is illegal to fire someone for being LGBTQ.”

In a 6-3 decision on Monday, June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on gender in the workplace applies to gay and transgender individuals as well.

“This has been a huge problem in the employment area. There was no protection for firing for being gay or a gender change. This is not in fact a lifestyle choice but an inherent part of who you are. It has nothing to do with your ability to do your job. As an American, you should be protected,” explained Deborah Gordon, a Bloomfield Hills lawyer who specializes in employment and civil rights issues.

Sam Dubin, 28, Royal Oak, is a founder of NEXTGen Pride, a group of LGBTQ individuals affiliated with the Jewish Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit program for younger adults. He describes the Supreme Court’s ruling as a “really momentous decision. Before you could get married on Friday and be fired on Monday. This has been a state-by-state issue. You could be covered in one state but not another.”

The case has a strong Michigan connection because one of the three plaintiffs was Aimee Stephens, a funeral director who was fired by a Garden City funeral home after announcing she had undergone a gender transition and would begin to dress as a woman at work. Stephens, who died last month of kidney disease, decided to contest her job termination with help from the Michigan ACLU in 2013.

Jay Kaplan, 59, an Oak Park resident, is the senior lawyer for the LGBT Project of the Michigan ACLU and has worked closely with Stephens since then. “This is bittersweet since Aimee passed on May 12. She wanted to help other transgender people and was very dedicated to the cause despite her health,” he says.

“This is absolutely amazing for the LGBT community. It affects everyone who is LGBT. It’s bigger than marriage equality,” comments Ron Elkus, 60, a member of the local LGBT community and a Huntington Woods resident.

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