Opinion

Lives of transgender people on trial at the Supreme Court

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I’m nervous about next week. Really anxious.

The US Supreme Court will hear arguments on three cases that have the potential to upend the lives of LGBTQ people across the country.

If President Donald Trump and his allies are successful in their arguments to the court, overnight it will overnight become OK under federal law to fire someone simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in much of the country.

But that’s only the beginning. If the president wins at the Supreme Court, he will be emboldened to take even more dangerous actions against transgender people, including denying them health care or kicking them out of their homes.

It’s the first time the high court will consider a case specifically about the rights of transgender people. And, frankly, I just don’t have a lot of faith in the court right now to do the right thing.

Decisions in the cases aren’t likely before January and might not come until June of next year. But the oral arguments on Oct. 8 and the questions from the justices will give us our first peak behind the curtain at what’s likely to happen.

If you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or if you care about someone who is, you should be paying attention.

But the implications of the cases could go much farther and have much broader implications than just the impact a negative ruling would have on LGBTQ people.

A bad ruling could allow anyone to be fired because they don’t look enough like a man or enough like a woman for their bosses liking. We could return to the days when women in the office are required to wear skirts – and not pants, for example.

The question before the court is whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. The Trump administration, his Department of Justice and other right-wing groups say it doesn’t. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and several lower courts say it does.

The ACLU, an organization that I’m proud to work with in Maine and around the country, is involved in two of the three cases: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Altitude Express v. Zarda.

In the first case, Aimee Stephens was fired after she told her bosses that she was transgender. In the second, Donald Zarda was fired from his job as a skydiving instructor after he told his employer he was gay.

The third case, which will also be heard on Oct. 8 is Bostok v. Clayton County, Georgia. Gerald Bostok says he, too, was fired after his employer found out he was gay.

In Maine, our state’s Human Right Act explicitly protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. But in much of the country, there are not such protections.

Nobody should be fired because of who they love or how they look. Most people agree with the idea that discrimination shouldn’t be legal. The Supreme Court has the chance to affirm this basic truth.

But will they?

The implications of the decision are real, and they go to the very heart of much deeper questions: Are we, as a country, prepared to tell lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that they are not allowed to exist in public and that the federal government, our government, doesn’t recognize – and protect – their right to go to work, earn a living and go about their lives without fear of discrimination?

Real people, real lives are on the line. Lives of people in our communities; lives of people we might never meet. Lives of our friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members.

Like I said: I’m anxious. I’m afraid for people I love. And I’m just not sure that the Supreme Court, with two new Trump judges, is up for the job.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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