Texas joins 15 states in effort to make it legal to fire trans workers

News of transgender rights coming under attack is back in national headlines. Ken Paxton, Attorney General of the State of Texas, has joined 15 other states to urge the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling from March to reject federal protections for transgender workers.

The group is contesting the decision made in regards to the EEOC v. RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes case. The case concluded with the 6th circuit’s ruling that Aimee Stephens, the defendant, was indeed discriminated against in the workplace after she was fired for communicating to management that she would begin expressing her gender at work.

According to the ACLU of Michigan, the civil liberties group representing Stephens, “The ruling affirms that transgender individuals are protected by federal sex discrimination laws, and that religious belief does not give employers the right to discriminate against them. The decision reverses the lower court’s decision, which held that religious belief was sufficient to exempt the employer from anti-discrimination laws.”

The decision from the 6th circuit came from the same argument from the historic Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 case (1989), which ruled that sex and gender stereotyping is a form of sex discrimination.

“This opinion focuses on whether businesses can discriminate based on religious beliefs despite anti-discrimination protections,” Kelsey Snapp, the Team Manager of the LGBTQ Team at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), said about the case. “The District Court [originally] said that the employer’s religious beliefs allowed them to discriminate. The 6th Circuit said that religious beliefs did not allow an employer to discriminate.”

In the brief, Paxton and the other 15 Republican officials argued against what the 6th Circuit decided and their belief that Title VII was not meant to protect against discrimination based on gender identity.

“This is upsetting and worrisome,” Jada Josette, leader of RGV Trans Women’s Support Group, shared with Neta upon learning about the brief.

Discrimination based on their gender identity is a critical issue that is happening all over the country, according to Snapp. In a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, results showed that 30 percent of those who responded said they were fired, had a promotion denied, or experienced other forms of discrimination due to their gender identity. Over 77 percent of those surveyed who had a job said they hid their gender identity, quit their job due to fear of how management would react, or even delayed their transition.

It’s a significant issue in the Valley as well. Josette is currently discussing this matter with a transgender friend who recently lost her job after coming out.  

“She’s reached out to TRLA,” Josette said. Details are scarce to protect the privacy of the person who is currently battling this case of discrimination. “I’m also in the process of helping her apply at my place of work where my employer is a big LGBTQ ally.”

Josette recommended TRLA for anyone who is being discriminated against and added that this issue is a reason why support groups in the Rio Grande Valey are so important.

The groups gather at least once a month and offer support on many levels, from what is going on in people’s personal lives as well as in the workplace. Each meeting focuses on different topics that affect the transgender community, according to Josette.

Updates about transgender worker rights have been on the news consistently throughout the Trump administration. Valerie Cantu Severn, a trans advocate in the Valley, has been following this issue closely over the past year.   

“The current administration feels they are bringing us down, that they are taking away our hope,” Valerie Cantu Severn said. “But all they are doing is making us want to fight more, making us more organized, making us create a rebellion. Because for a transgender person the act of living is an act of rebellion, and while they may feel they have taken our hopes away by stripping us of basic human rights they are doing the opposite. We are creating hope where there was none. Because rebellions are built on hope.”

Snapp speculated that the Supreme Court would likely review another case like the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was in the public accommodation context based on the First Amendment claims of free speech, than an employment case like EEOC v. RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes.