MEXICO CITY, June 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on a set of cases this month that could determine if gay and trans people are protected from discrimination at work by federal law, a move seen as one of the most significant decisions on LGBT+ rights in years.
At issue is whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars companies from discriminating against workers on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion, also covers LGBT+ people.
For gay and trans Americans, many of whom have experienced discrimination at work or lost jobs for being LGBT+, a ruling in their favor would represent a landmark moment.
“That (ruling) will open up a whole new world,” said Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who was fired from her job in the Georgia state legislature when she came out as trans.
“It will mean that no one else will have to suffer through the financial hardship or emotional devastation or the humiliation or any of the things that I felt,” Glenn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
More than half of LGBT+ Americans live in states without explicit workplace protections, according to U.S. think tank Movement Advancement Project, meaning they could be fired or harassed for being gay or trans and have little legal recourse.
The court’s decision is set to be handed down by the end of June but could come any day.
LGBT+ rights have become increasingly contentious under the administration of President Donald Trump, who has rolled back some initiatives, such as trans people enlisting in the military.
Last week the Trump administration announced a rollback of guidance implemented during the administration of President Barack Obama which protected trans people from facing discrimination in healthcare.
The Trump administration has argued that sexual orientation and gender identity are not covered by the Civil Rights Act.
But advocacy groups hope the Supreme Court’s ruling will extend protection to gender identity discrimination.
“If we could get a win, this is tremendous - it reaffirms what has been a long understanding by the courts,” said Sarah War below, legal director at U.S. advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign.
“It will mean that workers all over this country can breathe that sigh of relief that the court is going to maintain those protections.”
Trans rights advocate Carter Brown said if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of workplace protections, it would still require a cultural shift before trans people truly felt safe at work.
Brown, 45, from Dallas, Texas, was fired from his real estate job after co-workers found out he was trans.
He said being fired because of his gender identity was a major blow after he survived homelessness and became the first person in his immediate family to graduate from university.
“It felt like the entire dream and effort of making a great life for myself regardless of my trials ... that was all hopeless,” he said.
“Laws need to be enforced ... (but) if they pass it, it still comes down to the hearts and minds that are there before you with your fate in their hands.” (Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib; editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)