October 10, 2019 – On October 8th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on three cases regarding whether gender identity and sexual orientation are protected from employment discrimination through Title VII’s language of “on the basis of sex.” The National TRUTH Council calls upon the Supreme Court to rule in favor of queer and trans people while we continue to fight for the end of the capitalist system that perpetuates violence against our community. Employment protections are essential for trans people’s right to self-determination (point one of TRUTH’s Nine-Point Platform) and a crucial piece of creating a trans liberated future. In response to this, we call upon our allies to advocate for our protection and financially support transgender people and organizations.
Trans and gender nonconforming people have been kept out of the workplace since the beginning of history. Only 21 states have protections in place against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Not having job protections causes transgender people to be more at risk of losing their jobs, and are less likely to even be hired. Lack of employment means trans people are unable to escape poverty; according to a 2015 survey, trans people are twice as likely to live in poverty as the general U.S. population. This rate is 29% for white trans people, and the percentage increases dramatically for people of color—38% of Black trans people, 41% of Native trans people, and 43% of Latinx trans people live in poverty. Nearly half of trans people with disabilities are living in poverty due to the combined forces of capitalism, ableism, and transphobia only placing value on what people can produce.
The decriminalization of sex work is mandatory, especially in times where trans people are not sure if the government will grant them protection. When trans people are unemployed, sex work may become necessary as a means of survival. The harsh criminalization of sex work results in worse conditions for sex workers such as higher rates of violence and weaker community protections. The need for safe workplaces for trans people continues and granting protections for gender identity and sexual orientation is a step towards safer workplaces.
Rulings on the breadth of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and what it can cover in terms of employment non-discrimination can have impacts beyond just workers’ rights. The same language of “on the basis of sex” is used in Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 for protections of students in federally funded schools. Protections for trans and nonbinary students have already been weakened in February 2017 when the Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students was rescinded by the Trump Administration. The Supreme Court’s ruling will decide whether trans students can consider school a place of safe haven.
In addition, many trans and nonbinary youth are members of the workforce and are subject to not only discrimination in schools but also workplace discrimination. Trans youth are often times supporting not only themselves but also their families, especially when other factors are in consideration, such as race and class. Some trans youth are also working in hopes of creating emergency savings funds in case coming out ends with their families disowning them. The potential ramifications of these rulings will impact the current and future generations of trans youth.
As part of our fight for trans liberation, TRUTH is committed to ending capitalism and economic injustice. Workplace protections help us maintain our ability to survive so that we can continue to work towards achieving self-determination for ourselves and our communities. We fight for these protections in connection with the decriminalization of sex work, the right to safe housing for all people, free and trans-inclusive healthcare, the payment of reparations, and decolonization of land and institutions. The National TRUTH Council affirms that gender justice is economic justice, is racial justice, is land justice, is disability justice, and is intertwined with every form of justice.
As we call upon the Supreme Court to protect queer and trans people, we need our allies and privileged community members to support us. This starts by putting money in the hands of transgender people, particularly trans youth, Black, Indigenous trans people, and trans elders. It means properly compensating trans activists, educators, speakers, and artists for their time and energy. Essential to supporting us is intentionally recruiting, hiring, and promoting transgender and non-binary people in your workplaces but this must be accompanied by lobbying for inclusive policies and practices within your place of work. Additionally, support for employment protections for queer and trans people at the local and state government levels is still needed as the court makes its decision.
Workplace protections ensure queer and trans folks’ survival as we continue working towards an anti-capitalist, liberated future. National TRUTH Council member, Elias, from Florida, sums up “Debating the humanity of trans folks on a national platform is harmful, especially to trans youth. We are watching and we will remember the sides y’all take and the decisions that are made”. Even as the Supreme Court debates our rights, TRUTH recognizes that our power lies in the ability of trans youth to reclaim our stories, our identities, and our destinies.