As the LGBTQ community awaits a Supreme Court decision in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the plaintiff, Aimee Stephens, has died at the age of 59 from complications related to kidney disease. She was with her wife, Donna Stephens, at her home in Detroit.
Stephens was fired from her job at Harris Funeral Home after beginning to live openly as a woman. Her case is so important because the Supreme Court will decide whether it qualifies as sex discrimination under federal civil rights statutes to fire someone for being transgender. And Stephens’ case is the first that the Supreme Court will hear regarding the civil rights of someone transgender.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has served as a precedent for protecting trans people from employment discrimination, alongside a 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.
In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, Ann Hopkins sued her employer and won because Price Waterhouse did not grant her partnership in the firm because of her “interpersonal skills” and appearance.
Thomas Rost, Stephens’ boss said she was fired because she was “no longer going to represent [herself] as a man.”
A lower court already ruled in Stephens’ favor, ruling that it is “analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.”
Stephens’ case will go ahead as scheduled. Arguments were made in October and LGBTQ people wait impatiently for the Supreme Court decision. But, a courageous woman will not know the ruling.
“Aimee did not set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one,” ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio said in a statement.
HRC President Alphonso David said, “All of us in the LGBTQ community owe [Stephens] immense gratitude for her bravery in standing up for the right of LGBTQ people to live as ourselves at work and in every aspect of our lives.”
The rights of the LGBTQ community have always expanded because of the bravery of a few and then many, and then all of us. From the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot to Stonewall to the first Pride to marriage equality to the establishment of the Trans Day of Remembrance, to the plethora of court battles won at local, state and eventually federal levels, LGBTQ folks have been and continue to be brave. We stand up when we see or face injustice. Sometimes we stand due to inequity that has gone unchecked under the surface for far longer than anyone should accept, and sometimes we are provoked by a single unjust or even violent incident. For many reasons, this community stands against systemic oppression. Stephens joins that a lineage of bold and daring LGBTQ folks, and she will be remembered as a pioneer.