Yesterday we received the sad news that Aimee Stephens, a brave woman who filed a pioneering legal case concerning transgender rights, has died.
Aimee was fired from her job at a Michigan funeral home, R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, in 2013 after she told her boss that she was going to live publicly as a woman and would begin following the firm’s dress code for women. Aimee asked for “patience, understanding and support” as she embraced her true self. What she got instead was a pink slip. Her boss, citing his religious beliefs, fired her.
Firing someone due to gender identity is unlawful sex discrimination and is prohibited by Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The American Civil Liberties Union assisted Aimee with filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which subsequently filed suit on her behalf in 2014. Americans United and allied groups were proud to stand with Aimee when her case reached a federal appeals court and when it was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
When the case reached the high court, the Trump administration, in a stunning betrayal, announced that it would no longer support Aimee. The U.S. Department of Justice told the court that the federal government does not believe the Civil Rights Act protects transgender people. At the time, Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, remarked, “It is unconscionable that the federal government, after supporting Aimee Stephens through five years of court battles, would abandon her on the Supreme Court’s doorstep.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling is expected soon. We regret that Aimee won’t be here to see it. But one thing remains clear: Aimee’s bravery and tenacity in pursuing justice to the highest court in the land have inspired people across the nation. No matter how the Supreme Court rules, Americans who support LGBTQ rights and oppose a bogus definition of “religious freedom” being used as an instrument of discrimination won’t give up. We’ll keep at it until the legal rights of all Americans to live true to themselves, free from the dogma of employers and government officials, is secure.
Aimee stood for certain values – justice, fairness and simple decency. The best way to honor her memory is to fight even harder for those values. That is precisely what Americans United intends to do.
Photo: Aimee Stephens (r) with her spouse Donna. Courtesy of ACLU.