Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear arguments that call into question the strength and breadth of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The question before the court is simple. Is it legal to fire an employee because they are gay or transgender?
Twenty-one states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C., have laws that further specify the protections related to Title VII by articulating a definition that includes sexual orientation and/or gender identity. That’s good, but that’s less than half of the 50 states. This means roughly 44% of the LGBTQIA population in the U.S. relies on the federal Title VII definition for employment protections. Without the Supreme Court deciding otherwise, Title VII can include these broader and realistic definitions.
NTEN’s office is in Portland, Oregon, a state with explicit workplace protections. That’s important to me personally as a queer CEO. It means NTEN’s board can’t fire me for joining an LGBTQIA kickball league. That sounds like a ridiculous reason to fire someone, yet one of the plaintiffs in a case before the court claims joining a gay softball league was the reason he was fired for “conduct unbecoming of a county employee” instead of the reasons he was given.
NTEN has several employees who work from their homes in other parts of the country. Not all of those staff live in states with the same protections as Oregon. We have employee handbook policies and an organizational culture that reassures staff that discrimination will not be tolerated. Unfortunately, the government where they live can’t say the same thing. (You can easily research your state’s protections from Movement Advancement Project.)
For a sector focused on providing services to diverse communities, advancing policies that enfranchise and invest in our communities, and creating a better world, there is no option but to demand these protections. Title VII impacts everyone in the sector, even if you do not identify as LGBTQIA. We can’t meet missions, design effective programs, serve community members and create that better world if we don’t have inclusive and diverse teams. And we can’t have those teams without policies that ensure everyone at your organization has equal protections under the law.
This year alone, we’ve seen the dismantling of protections for trans folks and hate crimes against LGBTQIA people. When we acknowledge race in this conversation, we see the impact on LGBTQIA folks of color is disproportionately higher. It is not surprising to see these cases being heard now, but it is disheartening. Being vocal is needed, and it matters. Here’s how you can help:
Check-in on yourself and your staff. Don’t assume that you know the sexual, gender, or trans identity of your employees unless they’ve told you. The way these hearings, and the news coverage of them, could be impacting your staff is as diverse as they are. Having space to talk about it, or not be in the office even, may be necessary.
Start conversations in your organization, your family, and your community about the need for these protections. If you identify as cisgender and straight, then your voice especially matters. Those most affected by these laws should not be the only ones speaking up about them.