One of my close friends (who wishes to remain anonymous) is bisexual. This past summer, their co-worker accidentally outed them to their employer. A few days later, my friend was called into their employer’s office and asked about their bisexuality. To their relief, the employer reassured them that she supported their identity and that she would not seek to fire them over their sexual orientation. However, the stress that my friend experienced during that meeting has a darker origin. Across the state and the country, queer employees do face regular discrimination based on their identity. Defending the right of those employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity is sex discrimination.
On Oct. 8, several cases involving workers who were fired because of their gender identities and sexual orientations will approach the Supreme Court, where our justices will hear and eventually decide whether their right to work is protected from queer discrimination. Specifically, the court will be looking at Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Lawyers in defense of queer workers in this case argue that the term ‘sex’ includes sexual orientation and gender identity; lawyers in opposition say it does not.
Without a doubt, allowing employees to deny jobs based on either gender identity or sexual orientation is discriminatory against the queer community and has no place in American society.
In a companion case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., Donald Zarda, a skydiver, was fired for being a gay man. His lawyers told the justices after appealing his case, “The claim could accurately be framed entirely in terms of sex and nothing else: Zarda was fired for being a man attracted to men. That is sex discrimination pure and simple.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia that firing someone for being in an interracial couple is considered race discrimination. If a man is fired for being married to another man, why would it not be considered sex discrimination?
Mississippi is all too familiar with queer discrimination in government. The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, more famously known as H.B. 1523, is a state law enacted in 2016 that protects discriminatory practices by private institutions and individuals because of “deeply held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Essentially, it’s a law that allows businesses to deny service for people based on religious ideals.
Jaz Brisack, a former op-ed writer for the DM, pointed out that this bill allows businesses to deny employment for queer members, stating the law “is an all-out attack on the LGBTQ community.” I wholeheartedly agree — this law does nothing but target queer Mississippians who, like everyone else, just want to make a living.
H.B. 1523 is just one example of queer discrimination in Mississippi, and the Supreme Court has a duty to justify the protection of LGBTQ workers across the country. John Locke, a favorite of our country’s founders, wrote that the government’s duty to its citizens is to protect their rights. Our legislation has already recognized the importance of protecting workers’ rights regardless of identity under Title VII, and now it’s up to the Supreme Court to reaffirm that duty.
Thomas Morgan is a junior public policy leadership and international studies major from Brandon, Mississippi.