Sarah here. I grew up in rural Virginia. I didn’t know what being gay meant until my junior year of high school. I then heard rumors that the gay people lived in the mountains, shunned from society. I didn’t want to be shunned, but I knew that I couldn’t change my sexual orientation.
In the summer of 2006, I faced discrimination based on my sexual orientation from my employer. No one presented a way for me to defend myself. And that fall, most Virginia voters approved a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
In 2015, I camped outside the Supreme Court for four days to hear the Obergefell oral argument. My 2006-self needed to be in the room where the Solicitor General of the United States argued that I have as much right to get married and raise children as straight people do. I was overjoyed when marriage equality became the law of the land. But I also knew that the movement for LGBTQ justice was not over.
When I faced employment discrimination, I was privileged enough to have college housing and nine months to find another summer job with housing. Not everyone who faces employment discrimination has that privilege, and a patchwork of state and local prohibitions on employment discrimination against LGBTQ people isn’t enough. That’s why the June 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, affirming that the sex discrimination prohibition in employment includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, was so critical. And the path toward LGBTQ justice doesn’t end with marriage equality and employment discrimination protections.
LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color, trans people, and disabled LGBTQ people, also experience discrimination in access to housing, health care, education, and more. And we’re fighting a range of attacks against trans people on multiple fronts. As we reflect on the one-year anniversary of the Bostock decision, let’s celebrate the Biden-Harris administration’s work to provide information and outreach about how the Bostock decision protects LGBTQ employees around the nation, and to apply its rationale to housing, lending, health care, and education!
I’m happy to have colleagues from NWLC’s Education/Workplace Justice and Reproductive Rights and Health teams help me chime in about these advances, and the work that remains.
- Employment: The Bostock Supreme Court decision affirmed that discrimination against LGBTQ individuals is sex discrimination under Title VII. This means if you work for an employer with 15 or more employees, you have legal protections at work against LGBTQ-related discrimination under federal law across the nation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), recently highlighted resources regarding these rights. We’re also excited that state courts, including in a Florida case funded by the Times Up Legal Defense Fund, have followed Bostock in interpreting the scope of sex discrimination under state law to also protect LGBTQ workers! Now, we need the administration to provide additional staffing and funding to these civil rights agencies for outreach, education, investigations, and when necessary, litigation to make these civil rights real on the ground.
- Housing: In February, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the agency interprets the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination prohibition to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and will accept and investigate these types of sex discrimination complaints. In April, HUD announced that the agency was ending the proposal under former Secretary Carson to discriminate against trans and gender non-conforming people seeking access to shelter. HUD reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to the 2016 Equal Access Rule, which requires HUD-funded shelters to provide access consistent with a person’s gender identity, and started releasing technical assistance resources for shelters.
- Lending: In March, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibition on lenders engaging in sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as sex-based stereotyping. The CFPB also stated that the agency will hold lenders accountable when they violate ECOA, including discrimination against LGBTQ people.
- Education: Earlier this month, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced that it will enforce Title IX consistent with Bostock by recognizing that discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation is prohibited. This follows the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) memo, informing federal agencies that Bostock applies to Title IX and supports the decisions of many federal courts that Title IX prohibits discrimination against transgender students. Most recently, DOJ weighed in on a lawsuit challenging an anti-trans sports law in West Virginia, saying that the law violates Title IX and the U.S. Constitution. We are hopeful that the administration’s enforcement of Title IX and Bostock will continue to challenge anti-LGBTQ state laws and strengthen civil rights protections in schools across the country.
- Health Care: In May, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will interpret Section 1557—the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in health programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance—consistent with Title IX and Bostock to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. OCR also issued a notice of this new interpretation and its intent to enforce Section 1557 through its complaints and investigations process.
As we celebrate these positive developments during Pride month, we are also working hard to secure the passage of the Equality Act in the Senate, so that rights for LGBTQ individuals and others can be enshrined within our federal civil rights laws. We appreciate the hard work of the Biden-Harris administration and ask the Senate to also do its part to ensure LGBTQ civil rights protections. You can tell your senators to pass the Equality Act here. Securing protections under our laws is one important component of the fight for freedom and liberation for women of color, disabled people, immigrants, and others who make up our LGBTQ communities.