NEW YORK – LGBT-rights activists are elated by a major Supreme Court victory on job discrimination, and hope the decision will spur action against other biases faced by their community despite Trump administration efforts to slow or reverse advances.
In most states, it remains legal to discriminate against gay and transgender people in housing and public accommodations, leading activists noted. And they decried continuing violence and discrimination directed at transgender Americans, notably trans women of color.
The Trump administration has sharply restricted military service by transgender people and last week formally overturned Obama-era protections for transgender people against sex discrimination in health care. And there are pending lawsuits over transgender participation in school events.
“This is a landmark victory for legal equality, but unfortunately we have a lot of work still to do,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights organization, said of the Supreme Court ruling Monday.
The high court decided 6-3 that the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 — by prohibiting workplace sex discrimination — protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment. The opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of President Donald Trump’s two appointees to the court.
Even with the high court ruling, David said there’s a pressing need for enactment of the federal Equality Act, passed by the House of Representatives last year but stalled in the Senate. It would extend to all 50 states the comprehensive anti-bias protections already provided to LGBT people in 21 mostly Democratic-governed states -- addressing such sectors as housing, public accommodations and public services.
That goal will be difficult to accomplish, David said, unless Trump is defeated in the November election and Democrats end Republican control of the Senate.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s likely election opponent, hailed the Supreme Court ruling as “a momentous step forward for our country,” and said he looked forward to signing the Equality Act.
James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project, said Monday’s ruling — while momentous — was insufficient.
“There are important contexts where sex discrimination is still legal under federal law: businesses open to the public and recipients of federal grants, like soup kitchens and drug treatment programs,” he said.
“The Equality Act would plug those holes,” he added. "It would also update the range of businesses covered under the federal civil rights law so that forms of discrimination like racial profiling in stores and by ride-sharing services become illegal.“
Shannon Minter, one of the lawyers challenging Trump’s transgender/military policy, said Monday’s court decision will strengthen those challenges.
“This validates the rulings of four federal district courts that the military ban is impermissible sex discrimination,” said Minter, who is legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Minter also depicted the court ruling as “an extremely forceful rebuke” to the administration’s efforts to justify stripping away health care protections for LGBT people under the Affordable Care Act.
Gorsuch, in his decision, noted that multiple LGBT-rights issues remain unresolved, such as pending lawsuits over transgender athletes’ participation in school sporting events.
The U.S. Justice Department has intervened in a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking to block transgender athletes in Connecticut from competing alongside other girls in interscholastic sports. A statement signed by Attorney General William Barr argues against the inclusive policy of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
Courts also are dealing with cases about transgender students’ access to school bathrooms and locker rooms.
Monday’s decision is unlikely to end longstanding disputes related to employers who have religious objections to employing LGBT people, although some leading religious conservatives voiced dismay at the majority opinion.
Travis Weber, vice president for public policy at the conservative Family Research Council, called the ruling “unfortunate” and said it could complicate the ability of faith-based organizations to defend certain policies in court.
“The Supreme Court has teed up years of social conflict,” said the National Association of Evangelicals. “The decision provides significant protections for LGBT people but leaves unanswered how the right for people and organizations to exercise their religion — to live according to their deeply held convictions — will be safeguarded.”
The federal Civil Rights Act provides exemptions for faith-based groups to use certain discriminatory employment practices that accord with their religious beliefs — for example, Catholic schools' policies against hiring people who have a same-sex spouse. Monday’s high court ruling is likely to be cited in future litigation over the scope of those exemptions.
The court ruling came at a moment when many LGBT activists are aligning with the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups protesting police brutality and racial injustice. Major LGBT groups have been placing increased emphasis on the problems facing transgender women of color, who often encounter myriad forms of discrimination as well as violence.
According to the Human Right Campaign, at least 14 transgender people have been killed in the U.S. so far this year, including two black transgender women slain last week.
The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund said it would swiftly make use of Monday’s decision to bolster ongoing lawsuits in North Carolina and Georgia challenging government employers’ refusal to cover certain medical procedures for transgender people.
“Our work to eliminate structural discrimination and violence remains incomplete – most notably for the black transgender women in our community,” said the fund’s executive director, Andy Marra.
Associated Press reporter Elana Schor contributed to this report.