You Should Be Afraid of Tuesday
Disclaimer: This editorial is, for the most part, addressed to cishet readers. If you’re LGBTQ+ and reading this, you’re doing great. Remember to drink lots of water.
Someone has probably pointed it out to you by now. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear three cases which, taken together, will consist of a new opinion on whether LGBTQ+ Americans have the right to live.
Before you scroll down to the comments section and tell us to stop catastrophizing, yes, I’m aware that what the decision will really indicate is whether LGBTQ+ workers are protected from employment discrimination under federal law. It’s not like they’re going to legalize shooting us in the streets! After all, that’s already legal; only 16 US states have legislation against arguing “gay panic” or “trans panic” to mitigate murder charges in cases where the victim is LGBTQ+.
Let’s talk about why this impending decision is heart-stoppingly terrifying, because a lot of people don’t seem to be panicking. And I want you to panic.
Presently, all 50 US states have some sort of “at-will employment” legal code, under which an employer can fire any employee at any time for any reason, as long as that reason isn’t subject to specific anti-discrimination laws. In practice, these legal codes are already in use as a loophole through which LGBTQ+ workers can be fired for discriminatory reasons with legal carte blanche, even in states that do have some anti-discrimination laws on the books. For example, the state of Ohio is under a federal circuit court ruling that LGBTQ+ Americans are a protected class under Title VII, but I know someone who was fired from a job there immediately upon coming out to her employer.
This was a job at a church, by the way. Is this a good time to remind the gentle reader that churches don’t pay taxes?
So what changes on Tuesday? Well, if the three LGBTQ+ victims win their suits against their discriminating employers, a lot. There will no longer be any U.S. states that permit firing us simply for being ourselves–at least, none will permit it de jure. There will, of course, still be de facto employment discrimination under “at-will” codes, but then, that’s a larger issue that affects diverse classes of oppressed groups in this country. And yes, the socialists are coming for those laws eventually. But let’s stick to this week’s menu.
If the employers win their suits in Tuesday’s cases, eleven states and one U.S. territory will suffer immediate roll-back of LGBTQ+ rights, since rather than having anti-discrimination laws on the books, they merely operated under federal circuit court decisions like the Ohio one described above. Supreme court rulings are, of course, binding to all federal courts. They will also throw any state Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue into question, making the protected status of LGBTQ+ employees unstable even in the most progressive states.
The effects of this decision won’t just be legal, either. They’ll be psychological. It’s hard to express what it’s like to live under the knowledge that, at any moment, you could be fired from your job and evicted from your apartment, with no notice, and not even have grounds to sue over it. Readers who belong to other oppressed groups will recognize the feeling, I’m sure. People don’t want us to look queer, act queer, or, worst of all, talk about being queer. Or if they’re “tolerant,” they want us to assimilate (looking at you, Queer Eye). But all of that talk is just gaslighting; we can’t forget our queer identities, even for a moment, because to do so would be to let our guard down.
The fear I feel is intense. I’m white, and cisgender, and able-bodied. Imagine how much more intense the fear felt by those whose discrimination risk factors are multiple.
I want you to think about that fear. Now I want you to feel it. I want you to let that fear distract you. I want it to turn into anger. Be angry with us. Because we’re all human, and we all have the right to live (even if it’s unfortunate that, under capitalism, the right to live is synonymous with the right to grasp for employment).
Tuesday’s decision is probably going to give employers the legal right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ workers. And then people are going to move on. It’ll be hard not to; things go so fast lately, and so much news is heavy. The band will play on, as it always does, until the anger is big enough to spark change. So let’s get angry.