Updated: Oct 15, 2020
“Who is gonna say my want is not a need?”
These words belong to Shea Diamond, a black transgender woman, formerly incarcerated for 10 years in a men’s facility after robbing a convenience store to pay for gender-affirming surgery.
The first time I heard her lyrics, I mistook the word want for wound. Who is going to say my wound is not a need? The idea of our pain needing tending to. This has me thinking about the way the world inflicts harm upon us all. The way we far too often have to defend or convince others of our right to heal, to seek comfort after we have been subjected to violence.
Today is October 8th, 2019. is historical. Today is the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for three LGBTQ cases in which the Trump Administration is urging the court to rule that it is legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ. These cases involve two gay men and one transgender woman all who were fired after their employers were informed of their identity. Aimee Stephens spent close to 6 years working at the funeral home and has spent the last 6 years navigating the legal landscape to reach the most powerful court in the nation as the first transgender civil rights case.
What the justices will be deciding is whether or not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends workplace protections to LGBTQ people on the basis of sex discrimination.
We’ve come close to this step before. Gavin Grimm, a Virginia high school student and transgender youth, was denied access to the boy’s restroom and subsequently sued the school district arguing that their policy violated Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination within federally funded schools, not too dissimilar to what we’re witnessing now. Gavin’s case was on the Supreme Court docket for Spring 2017 but was sent back to the lower federal court after the Trump administration reversed Obama-era guidance which directed schools to allow students to use restrooms that aligned with their gender identity.
It is precisely these intentional steps and rollbacks at the hands of the Trump Administration that has had the trans community on high alert and has pitted the administration in direct opposition of the community.
As a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina, my previous employer, over House Bill 2 and its replacement law House Bill 142, these cases feel all too familiar. Both bills restricted access to restrooms and public facilities for the trans community as well as prevented anti-discrimination protections from including the LGBTQ community. Noel Francisco, the current US Solicitor General for the Trump Administration, played a key role in the Supreme Court cases heard today, arguing on behalf of the government and in support of the employers who fired their LGBTQ staff. I have spent time with Noel Francisco in court, as prior to his current appointment he was the lawyer defending UNC in regards to harm invoked by HB2 and HB142. The hostility shown to me and the broader community then has now gained a federal and national platform.
We cannot talk about this current LGBTQ legal landscape without mentioning its impact upon our health. Employment, healthcare, and our well-being are inextricably tied. When individuals lose the ability to work they too often lose their access to medical care and in some cases, that may be the point. Because these laws and these legal maneuvers are meant to deprive us of our access to the resources necessary for our basic survival. When Gerald Bostock was fired from his job as a child welfare service coordinator after joining a gay softball league, he also lost his health insurance while in the midst of recovery from prostate cancer. When Aimee Stephens lost her job, she was on dialysis and she and her wife had to resort to selling their possessions to cover mounting medical bills. Currently, the Affordable Care Act includes gender identity and sexual orientation as a protected classification. The Trump Administration is weighing a regulatory change to remove these protective measures. This is meant as a message to our community that we will have to make compromises in order to access our truth. That we cannot have both a livelihood and a wholeness. These compounded harms also point to a need for our movements to invest in policies that liberate us from healthcare that can be held hostage.
We may ask, how often will we have to argue for our humanity? To exist and have access to our spectrum of experiences?
What I do know is that we will not go down without a fight. No matter the outcome of these cases, we will still have an uphill battle. But our community gains have stoked fear in our opposition and that means we are on the right track. We have a long-term vision and we are on our way. With that, I will close with Shea’s powerful words:
“I don’t like antiques, I want something new. I got my dignity, gonna live my truth.
Like the Southern smile I just can’t lose. Let my light sweep across the room.”