SCOTUS Deeply Divided on LGBTQ Rights

October 10, 2019

The Justices heard cases that would broaden sex discrimination under Civil Rights Act to include Gays, Lesbians and Transgender citizens.

The Justices heard cases that would broaden sex discrimination under Civil Rights Act to include Gays, Lesbians and Transgender citizens.


Demonstrators in favour of LGBT rights rally outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, October 8, 2019, as the Court holds oral arguments in three cases dealing with workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Story Transcript

SPEAKER: Trans women are women. Trans women are women. Trans women’s lives matters. Trans lives matter.

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us.

LGBTQ rights have advanced. Still have a long way to go in this country, but they’re also part of a deep ideological and cultural divide. The divide has shown the depth of its ugly head this week as Supreme Court heard arguments that will decide if Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes discrimination against transgender people and gay people in this country illegal under an act that makes sex discrimination illegal. The conservative and liberal members of this court are clearly deeply divided. The conservatives say, “This was not the intent for the law and will intensify the cultural wars in America.”

Liberals, on the other hand, argue that sex discrimination is a broad definition, and like harassment that was not stipulated in the original bill, was made illegal under the courts in the same law. It should be in this case as well. It all hinges, it seems, on Gorsuch, that one justice who seems to be wrestling with the issue. The three cases, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a gay rights case where someone was fired because they were gay, and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zardo, which is a similar case, and then there’s R.G., G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, that involves transgender rights, which is an earth-shaking new step in the struggle for transgender rights in this country.

We are joined now by Ava Pipitone, who is founder and CEO of HostHome. Ava, welcome. Good to have you with us.

AVA PIPTONE: Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER: So, let’s take this step back here and look at this. This case, when you look at the arguments that the justice we’re having with one another inside that court, it really does show the divide here, and I think also shows, in some ways, politically and in terms of human rights, how critical this case may be in terms of what comes out. I mean, what’s your analysis and take on that?

AVA PIPTONE: Exactly, Mark. Critical is a good word, right? Regardless of how the case come out, the fact that we’re talking about transgender issues, transgender workplace protections at this scale means that every dinner table throughout the country are having these conversations. Right? That we are now talking about my community everywhere. So, that is where I am focused. No matter what strategy wins, no matter what strategy gets the protections we need to cascade from workplace to housing protections and so on, we’ll are having them today throughout the country. So, the monumentous scale of this must be noticed first.

MARC STEINER: So, one of the things which you just said here … Let me just probe this for a moment because these are three cases here, two in which involve gay/lesbian rights and one which involves directly transgendered people and transgender rights. One of the things clearly that’s happening in this case is what you just alluded to, which the conservative side of the court is saying, “Look, if we let this go, if we say, ‘Yes, this is legal, that transgender people can go and say they cannot be discriminated against under a sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of ’64,’ then that opens all the flood gates. That means they’ll be going to the bathroom with us. That means that there are all these things are going to happen. We’re going to have to hire them. We’re going to have to let them live in our homes and rent apartments.” So, what you’re saying is critical to where the political divide is and why there’s such a battle going on.

AVA PIPTONE: Right. Underneath of that, right, is bathrooms, employment, housing; this is value, this has access. So, we always say it’s never been about bathrooms. It’s about access to public space. Remember, bathrooms used to be segregated racially.

MARC STEINER: Right.

AVA PIPTONE: It wasn’t that long ago. So this is about, “Are you valuable members of our society, our community, our workforce? Are you valuable neighbors?” This conversation is actually the core of all of this fear. It’s are we trustworthy and valuable, and therefore, do we have access to public space? Right? Do we have access to selling our labor under late capitalism? I believe anyone speaking to another human, transgender, cisgender, heterosexual, LGBTQ, how can you say that we are not valuable? How can you say that to our face? That’s the thing. Pulling back to humanity and hinging it on access, this is really the core issue.

MARC STEINER: So, yeah, two things here. I’m just curious your take on where this will go because we’ll see what they decide. The arguments were fascinating, which we can probe at another time in some depth, but when you look at these sort of cases, this actually brought gay, lesbian and transgender people together, which really says something about the movement which has often sometimes been divided like that. That’s been an internal battle that’s been going on. So, how significant is it that you have these three cases that really attack this issue of sex discrimination from this broad kind of united front perspective?

AVA PIPTONE: Right. United, we are stronger, right? This is a coalition of movements that are all intersecting at this moment to push in this one way, right? We talk about strategy and we talk about how the left is always … In an activist space, we tend to have our Maslow’s needs a little less met, so we can’t be as strategic and as long-term focused. This strategy has been and is long-term focused. We are coming together over our differences, right? We are not in fighting today. We are together today. We’re not in fighting amongst who is first, who is second, is it trans women first, is it lesbians second, is it lesbians first? We’re not having that conversation today. We’re here today together holding hands and walking together, right? That’s when I say this is a first united push like this in several years. I’m not going to predict the future, although I have my opinions and my thoughts about where this is going to go. We are now having this united conversation in every home in the country.

MARC STEINER: So, when you look at what could be decided here, there seems to be one justice that is the linchpin here, and that’s Gorsuch, who had arguments on both sides. He’s a textualist in terms of the constitution, which is a very conservative movement. This time it may actually work against the conservatives in his mind. We’ll find out. On the other side, this hinges on this one person. Now, let’s talk about the politics of what happens next. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they rule not in the favor of LGBTQ people and in building a more equitable society. Then what? Whatever happens, this case has opened doors that were not open before in the public conversation.

AVA PIPTONE: Again, predicting the future, so put as value in that as you put a value in someone’s opinion, right? But if we don’t get this right, then it’s glaring that if you believe LGBTQ people have value in society and deserve access to society, then we need more legislation. Right? So, if this isn’t the end road to victory, to the protections that we need, to the access that we need, then they’ll need to be new language built, and building language is a longer process. It’s an opportunity, but it’s a longer process. I believe, and so do the people behind these campaigns and these coalitions, that this moment, we can win and this language can serve this end and we don’t need to go back into the semantics of the scope of the original intent of this word and if this is the right intent. Are we stuck on that content? No. No. We can go forward with this, I believe. I believe it’s not useful to entertain what failure looks like in this moment because we are all here together, and to ignore us would be a bigger failure than to move forward.

MARC STEINER: As we can conclude, as someone who has been a leader and a forthright person fighting for trans rights in this city, in this country, talk a bit about how far this movement’s come. It’s come to a place now that it hasn’t been before in front of the federal courts, but this also is kind of opening up a conversation in the United States within families. You can see from the polls that a majority of people would support them ruling for the defense in this case, in the Supreme court. So, talk a bit about that, that struggle sojourn and where this is taking us.

AVA PIPTONE: Definitely. Momentum is that word, right? Momentum. People said trans tipping point and they said, “Oh, my God. People are coming out like never before. Where are these LGBTQ folks coming from? Where are these trans folks coming from? What is this?” Our answer has always been that we have always been here. Actually, the repression of people like us is a newer act. Even more deeply, we have social value to add, right, in a conversation around how we’re going to push innovation, how we’re going to push our state, our country forward. Our voices have a perspective that is crucial to that innovation. I think now that we are speaking and we are out and we have some protections to participate, people are seeing that value.

If you’re into the economics of diversity inclusion, there’s a higher return on investment on investing in people who have experienced depression, people who have experienced adversity, because in so many ways, innovation is just a fancy word for survival. If we had to survive in a system that wasn’t built for us, we’ve had to get smart, we’ve had to adapt, we’ve had to come together and develop that emotional intelligence it requires to come together. Days like today are moments where we realized that we all are interdependent and we all are and have been walking together, whether or not we were holding hands as we walk together. I think that you talked about what’s the scope of this over my career at the forefront in some ways developing new leaders in other ways, what’s my perspective? It’s that interdependence and how that interdependence has become intergenerational.

Now, I look, and when I was trusted with knowledge and wisdom of elders in the trans community, there was only a few. There were only a few people talking to me and mentoring me. Now, I take it on myself and everyone I’ve talked to that we are constantly bringing up our youth. We are constantly doing that thinking together with our mentees and we are co-learning with the next generation. People talk about transness getting younger and we say, “We’ve always been,” right? We’ve always been building together. This intergenerational piece where we have these 70-year-old freedom fighters walking hand in hand with 18-year-old non-binary trans folks and lesbian butch women who maybe didn’t use that language in the past and now we see each other and we understand that we were doing the best we could with the tools we had at that time.

Now, when we’re not in those academic spaces and we’re not using that language that can be elitist to define who we are, we’re able today to make that emotional connection with people outside of our silo, people who don’t speak like us, and we can now hold hands with them and we can say, “Hey, if the language isn’t perfect in this piece of legislation, if the language isn’t perfect today, I still see you. I’m still walking with you.”

MARC STEINER: Ava Pipitone, that was eloquent. I appreciate you being with us today. We all look forward to a positive outcome with this case and continuous struggling until we have it all right. Thank you so much for joining us and thanks for your work.

AVA PIPTONE: Thank you for having me again.

MARC STEINER: My pleasure. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Please go to our website. Let us know what you think. Take care.

DHARNA NOOR Hey, y’all. My name is Dharna Noor and I’m a climate crisis reporter here at The Real News Network. This is a crucial moment for humanity and for the planet, so if you like what we do, please, please support us by subscribing at the link below. Thank you.