KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling Monday, protecting LGBTQ people in the workplace, but activists still see a long road to full equality.
“It’s a great historical step forward, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the work we’re doing is over,” said Inoru Wade, founder of the Midwest Rainbow Research Institute and secretary of the Kansas City Center for Inclusion.
The ruling, authored by Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, states that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barring workplace discrimination on the basis of sex includes protections for gay, trans and non-binary people.
In other words, federal law now forbids employers from firing someone solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“From a policy perspective, these are very important first steps,” Wade said. “Basically what this does is set the stage for people to seek justice in cases of discrimination. It doesn’t end discrimination. It just makes people, companies, employers accountable for said discrimination.”
Family rejection and discrimination has led to an increased risk of youth homelessness and depression for LGBTQ people. LGBTQ youth account for as much as 40% of the youth homeless population, according to The Trevor Project.
Wade said this is a constant struggle, which is why the Kansas City Center for Inclusion serves as a safe space for LGBTQ people.
“Other marginalized groups within the United States generally have their parents and their grandparents to rely on,” Wade said. “But a lot of the discrimination that we see in our community is coming from those that we believed should be our best allies.”
Legally speaking, the Supreme Court ruling is narrow in scope with Gorsuch writing that future litigation will determine some issues, such as bathroom access for transgender individuals.
Bill Martucci, an employment attorney with Kansas City-based firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon, said there will likely be future legal challenges.
“The court said that’s for another day and that’s probably where the challenge comes in terms of protocols and the proper approaches that employers believe are in place,” he said.
“There will be a lot of discussion about that, and I’m optimistic that for many employers, they’ll deal with it well.”
Martucci also said that some cities, including Kansas City, already have laws protecting LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination; however, the ruling may present a challenge for some small- and medium-sized businesses.
He said businesses should look to local governments and entities like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for guidance.
“The reality is, don’t we want a workplace that’s diverse? Don’t we want to it to be inclusive? This is another step in that regard,” Martucci said.
“I understand it’s going to be a challenge in a lot of workplaces, but I think when we look back just a few years from now, we’ll be very pleased by how successful we were and how many great contributions were made by people of all backgrounds.”