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SCOTUS links LGBT equality and Black civil rights fights

After today’s SCOTUS decision, We must acknowledge—and leverage—the clear connections between the ongoing struggles for equality among LGBT and Black communities

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) today may have acknowledged George Floyd’s murder. In reality, SCOTUS ruled on the seemingly unrelated topic of workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangender Americans, giving those of us in the LGBT community the same protections that were legally granted to Black citizens in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In my opinion, it has taken not just 56 additional years for this step for queer equality, but has also taken the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the tragic death of Floyd to get to today.

LGBT-rights protesters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.


Today’s Supreme Court decision (finally!) enshrines in federal law protections against unlawful job termination based on a person’s sexual identity. Referring to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discriminatory firings based on race and sex, SCOTUS stepped up to the Civil Rights pillar and added all of us who are celebrating Pride this month. Before today, some of us were protected from unlawful queer discrimination solely by 22 state laws, but the millions of us who live in the other 28 states could be fired simply because we love someone of the same sex and/or are trans.

A huge kicker is that Donald Trump’s appointee Neil Gorsuch—the Justice whose seat was stolen from Merrick Garland by that conniving and immoral Mitch McConnell—wrote the majority opinion. Dubya Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts also joined the 6-3 vote in favor of one more step toward equal LGBT civil rights. Gorsuch wrote:

“Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result. But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”

Let that sink in. Trump’s own Gorsuch and the same Republican-appointed Chief Justice who voted just seven years ago to kill the core of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and, therefore, empower mostly Southern states to willfully disenfranchise non-White voters, are essentially adding queers to part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Why is that?

Because it’s the ethical thing to do in a, ahem, democracy? We’d hope so.

Because these conservatives are progressives at heart? No effing way.

Because the whole world is protesting civil rights abuses right now. You betcha.

Of course, I have no idea about when Gorsuch and Roberts voted or when Gorsuch wrote the court’s majority opinion that was released today, June 15, 2020, but I think history will bear out my hunch. I wouldn’t be surprised if we come to learn in the coming years that SCOTUS had been influenced by the news and worldwide protests around George Floyd’s murder (May 25, 2020) as well as the other high-profile racially motivated killings by police of unarmed Black citizens since SCOTUS heard arguments on the LGBT case way back in October of 2019. Since then, we’ve also become aware of the tragic killings of Breonna Taylor (March 13, 2020), Ahmaud Aubery (February 23, 2020), and Dreasjon Reed (May 6, 2020).

Additionally, there’s Trump’s own racism. It’s undeniable. The man who is being abandoned by the likes of Mitt Romney, Colin Powell, and George W. Bush, who has recently gassed peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, who caged brown children at our border with Mexico, who is defending Confederate monuments and calling them “beautiful,” who proclaimed that some of the Charlottesville White nationalists were “good people,” who described Mexicans as “racists and murderers,” who, well “add nauseum” [sic intended!]—that guy may also have been (momentarily) discarded by these conservative Justices as a statement. Here’s one clear line from Gorsuch’s majority opinion to illustrate:

“Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.”

That’s “all persons,” no matter how fabulous, flamboyant, or flagrantly sinful to religious conservatives, folks. And that’s not typical conservative-speak.

While different histories, the struggles for Black and LGBT equality are interconnected.

Black lives help make gay lives matter

As I wrote in my last post (Why Black lives matter to me personally), I’m not equating the struggle for Black civil rights with the battle for LGBT civil rights. They’re different histories, except when you happen to be both Black and queer. However, I think that the queer community owes a particular, tangible debt to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Civil Rights Movement.

As we celebrate Pride Month 2020, we do so by pledging support and allegiance to Black Lives Matters as protests still fill the streets, as we have been forced to cancel our Pride parades due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also as we throw our support as a queer community to #BLM. So let this be my own tiny parade of acknowledgements and gratitude:

56 years vs 401 years: While its taken 56 years since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include LGBT Americans in workplace protections, let’s remember that it was 401 years ago this year that African slaves were first brought to the pre-United States, which is a country that clearly still has far to go in giving equity—not just equality on paper—to Blacks and others.

Interlinked injustices, united: Today’s SCOTUS ruling is a monumental event but also a perfect illustration of how the causes of different groups that have been disenfranchised and traditionally placed outside of White, heterosexual, conservative institutions can (and must!) keep working separately for our own protections but also together, and with an understanding that our causes sometimes, beautifully interconnect.

The Left side of equality: We need to be partisan. I don’t want to be divisive; I truly don’t. However, what has the Right done for you, lately, if you’re anyone other than a typical straight, White, wealthy (or conservative) American? (Seriously, please let me know if conservatives/Republicans have done anything for non-White/LGBT rights/equality in the last decade or three.) It’s Democrats who are on the side of the marginalized, although that doesn’t truly happen often enough either.

Vote for your next SCOTUS Justice: OK, you can’t actually vote for the replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But your vote for Joe Biden is a vote for the next Supreme Court justice. While today’s SCOTUS decision was favorable (and not even the typical 5-4 decision), this court—and the courts below it that Trump has stacked with conservatives that will affect our lives for generations to come—is still very right-wing and will do terrible social-justice damage, especially if you don’t vote for Biden.

That brings me to what Joe Biden said about today’s SCOTUS decision::

“The Supreme Court has confirmed the simple but profoundly American idea that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity, That everyone should be able to live openly, proudly, as their true selves without fear.”

Everyone. Thanks to Mr. Biden, but especially to our Black forebears in the Civil Rights Movement.

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