In light of the Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision on Title VII, HR Learning Center LLC asked our newest HR Consultant and LGBTQ, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist to reflect on what this ruling means for him and for many LGBTQ employees. The following is his reflection on this momentous decision.
The Supreme Court ruling on June 15, 2020 comes nearly 8 months after it was first announced that the Supreme Court would hear these cases. It’s been 8 months of holding our collective breaths, hoping for the best, and preparing for the worst.
Every LGBTQ person knows someone who’s been directly discriminated against at work. Even if it hasn’t happened directly to all of us, knowing how easily it could happen is enough to send many openly LGBTQ people back into the closet at their places of work. You might be thinking, is it really that bad to be in the closet at work? Just don’t talk about it, it’s not that big a deal. In practice, staying in the closet is done with constant, conscious attention and nervousness. I know people who have to change their phone backgrounds when they go into work so there aren’t any pictures with their significant other. I know people who have coworkers constantly trying to set them up on dates because they are too afraid to say they are in a long term, loving, gay relationship. As a transgender man, one job I worked at I wouldn’t drink water all day so that I wouldn’t risk anyone being suspicious of me in the bathroom. Last summer, I had top surgery, a crucial part of my gender transition, and I wasn’t allowed to raise my arms or lift more than 10 pounds. I also worked as a preschool teacher at the time. Rather than be honest about my surgery and talking to my students, or even just my coworkers about my physical limitations, I did everything I could to act completely normal. This meant lifting chairs at the end of the day, and hiding a grimace when my students would try to get me to pick them up or carry them on my back. I eventually told my coworkers when I realized the scope of the damage I was doing to myself, but I spent weeks spending most of my focus and mental energy on making sure no one knew I was trans because of how scared I was of how my boss, coworkers, students, or students’ parents would react.
This ruling gives us a chance to exhale for the first time in months, years, or for some of us, a lifetime. The first order of business is to celebrate, to revel in the fact that we can no longer be fired because of our sexuality or gender identity. The second order of business is to acknowledge that even if we can’t be fired, we can still be shunned, or still not have access to an appropriate restroom, or still be subject to daily microaggressions. This ruling marks a huge victory, but it doesn’t mark the end of diversity and inclusion work for the LGBTQ community. In thinking about your own workplace, consider the quote “diversity is a fact, inclusion is an act.” This ruling celebrates and supports having diversity, but the work towards inclusion is still up to you. Think about your policies, your resources, and your culture, are you doing your part?