SCOTUS hears LGBTQ discrimination cases that could affect thousands of troops, veterans

Abbie Bennett
October 08, 2019 - 3:03 pm

Photo by Christina Johnson

On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court returned to the bench to tackle a trio of cases on LGBTQ employment discrimination advocates say could affect thousands of veterans, service members and their families.  

At issue in the three cases heard Tuesday is whether the 1964 federal employment laws that prohibit discrimination "because of sex" also protect LGBTQ workers.

Last month, LGBTQ groups filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of the cases, emphasizing the potential effects decisions on the cases could have on veterans, troops and their families. 

The Modern Military Association of America (MMAA), the nation’s largest non-profit organization for the LGBTQ military and veteran community, and the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), urged the court to rule that LGBTQ workers are protected under Title VII. 

"The Supreme Court's decision in these cases will profoundly affect the estimated 11 million LGBTQ people in this nation, including hundreds of thousands of service members, veterans and their families," Peter Perkowski, MMAA legal and policy director, said in a statement to Connecting Vets Tuesday.

For military and veteran families, the Trump administration's argument that transgender people are not protected under the federal civil rights laws was the nexus of the president's so-called "transgender ban" in the military. 

MMAA and TAVA argue that Title VII protections for LGBTQ troops, veterans and their families is a "national security" issue.  

"It's critical the Court make clear that our nation's civil rights laws include LGBTQ people. An opposite decision would especially harm our military and veteran families who are stationed or live in one of the 30 states that lack clear, comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination protections," Perkowski said. "Service members need to be focused on the mission and should never have to worry about their family members being fired or denied a job just because of who they are."

In their brief, the advocacy groups make three main arguments: 

  • Title VII protections are "integral" to protecting "economic and dignitary interests" of LGBTQ military and veteran families;
  • Title VII protections are "crucial" for veterans transitioning to civilian employment; 
  • Equal employment opportunity to LGBTQ people is a national security interest. 

SCOTUSblog  reported Tuesday that Justices were divided on federal protections for LGBTQ employees during the initial hearing. A decision on the cases likely won't emerge until next year. 

The cases are: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, Aimee Stephens and Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda. 

Transgender discrimination hurts LGBTQ military families, groups say in SCOTUS brief

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell 2.0’: LGBTQ veterans share experiences with homelessness, discrimination and discharge