Chase Strangio, Imara Jones Unpack Supreme Court Case

Even if trans people lose the employment discrimination case argued before the Supreme Court on October 8, we are ultimately poised to win in the long term. That is my conclusion after sitting down with Chase Strangio, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Trans Project, last week for our latest Facebook Live #LivesAtStake conversation.

I’m optimistic because the issue of whether employers can fire people, solely based on their gender identity, has brought together activists, celebrities, national organizations, and community-based trans organizations like never before. The result of this alliance will have a lasting, positive impact for years to come.  That’s the reason why Strangio, who was at the Court as part of the legal team, and others decided to turn this legal action into an organizing moment.

As you know the trans-focused, gender-identity case—Harris Funeral Homes vs EEOC—was only one of three LGBT+ employment discrimination cases heard by the court at the same time last week. The other two, Airlift Express vs. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County were sexual orientation, employment discrimination cases. 

At issue is whether the Civil Rights of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees based upon “sex.” Zarda and Bostock argued that losing their jobs for being gay men was a form of sex discrimination because if they had been women who dated men, instead of men who dated men, then they would have kept their jobs. Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff in the Harris Funeral Home case (Chase’s client), argued that if she had remained a man instead of transitioning then she would have not been fired.  Being fired for being a woman is clearly a form of sex discriminaion argues Stephens.

How this case turns out legally will depend on a number of factors which Chase and I went through in detail. But some of the dynamics here inside of the Supreme Court Chambers were important and historic as well for trans people.  “For the first time Justices had to look out and see us as they talked about us,” Strangio told me. This means that for the highest court in the land we are no longer an abstraction but real people. This is also true for the opposing counsel who were arguing against trans rights. “The same people who denied that I existed had to look me in the eye and shake my hand,” he said. 

All of this underscores why the mobilization around October 8, kicked off by Chase’s appearance on the red carpet at this year’s Emmy’s with Laverne Cox, was so important.  Bringing hundreds of trans people from across the country forced the Supreme Court to confront the reality of our humanity.
My conversation with Chase also highlighted the importance of narrative projects like TransLash.  “The law is a form of highly structured, highly formalized storytelling” argues Strangio.

And the more we can give those on the Supreme Court and elsewhere stories which help them to understand who we are, the less likely we are to need to rely on legal arguments for our survival in the first place.

TransLash Episode 3 premiered April 12, 2019, at 12:30 PM ET on the TransLash Facebook page. Join the conversation; everyone is welcome to participate.

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