Judge rules company within rights to fire employee for being trans

Last Thursday, a federal court judge in Detroit ruled that a funeral home had the right to fire Aimee Stephens because she came out as trans. This case adds to the climate of transphobia our country has been dealing with this year and could have national consequences for trans people’s employment rights. 

Aimee Stephens worked as the director of the funeral home from 2007-2013, when she came out as trans to the owners and told them she planned to go forward with a medical transition. Soon after, they fired her. U.S. District Judge Sean Cox reported in his decision that trans people do not have federal protection from employment discrimination and that because of their faith, the owners of RG&GR Funeral Homes Inc. are exempt from civil rights law and were within their rights to fire Stephens for coming out as trans.

This case is yet another big win for religious freedom laws, which have been sparked all over the nation since the Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, which allowed business owners to deny their employees birth control coverage on religious grounds. The case could set a precedent for how future employment discrimination cases for trans people will be handled, which matters, as many states do not yet have laws in place to protect trans people from this kind of discrimination.

In the past, Title VII – which prohibits a business or individual from discriminating based on sex, race, age, religion or national origin – has often helped to throw out these religious freedom cases, but not here. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed the lawsuit requesting that the funeral home practice policies that provide equal employment opportunities regardless of sex, including gender identity, but this case dictated that Title VII doesn’t apply to gender, and therefore cannot help trans people. It even went to far as to say that when enforcement of Title VII infringes on a company’s religious beliefs it need not be enforced. 

This news comes off the heels of Texas’ recent move to block the White House policy to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The Texas bill is filed under Title XI, which requires that schools receiving federal funding not discriminate against students on the basis of sex. The Departments of Justice and Education interpret the law to include transgender students using the bathroom that identifies with their gender identity, however Texas is arguing that sex as mentioned in Title XI is to mean only biological sex, and not gender.

During this wave of over 100 anti-LGBTQ bills in the past year, movements that show support and advocacy for trans lives are more vital than ever. Let this be a call to action for everyone to be a more active ally for our trans and gender-non-binary community members.

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Brooklyn, NY

Corinne Werder is, first and foremost, a queer anarchist and pleasure activist. Corinne's favorite things in the world include blogging about queer issues, discussing breaking the gender binary and teaching sex positivity to end rape culture. Always intrigued by the human story -- she would love to hear from you and you can find her on almost every social platform!

Corinne is a queer anarchist, pleasure activist, and sex educator based in Brooklyn, NY.

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