On June 15, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that LGBTQ workers were protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a 6-3 ruling, representing the majority, Justice Gorsuch wrote, “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
The majority ruled that the protection against discrimination based on sex by the CRA applies to queer folks. The ruling, while welcomed by the queer and progressive communities, was surprising given the conservative nature of the current court.
While the political leanings of the individual justices who sit on the Court are not irrelevant, the ruling reveals that court decisions can at times be based more on the social relations in society at a given moment than on personal views of the justices or the “purity” of the law.
The country and the world is in active rebellion against racist police terror. Broad sectors of society are demonstrating, facing police violence, tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and flash bang grenades daily in cities and towns big and small, urban and rural. Demands addressing systemic police brutality, once thought unwinnable, are now being championed by mainstream politicians and institutions.
It would not help the U.S. domestic and global image to endorse systemic discrimination against LGBTQ people at the same time this global anti-racist, anti-police terror rebellion is under way. While the Trump administration, supporting some of the most anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-immigrant views in capitalist society, provides a platform for racists and homophobes, the Supreme Court knows that the vast majority of people in the country are opposed to discrimination against LGBTQ people.
According to a poll taken by the Public Religion Research Institute, majorities in every state in the country are for equal protection for LGBTQ people in jobs, housing and accommodations.
The institutions of capitalist society from the Supreme Court to Congress to all the state and local governments, operate in the interests of the ruling class, the capitalists, the owners of wealth. This ruling should be a lesson to those struggling for social justice that as long as the working class and oppressed peoples accept daily exploitation, racism, bigotry, misogyny, anti-immigrant racism, and every other divide-and-conquer ideology, the politicians will act in the interests of the rich at the expense of the workers and the poor.
But when the working class and the oppressed rise up, as we have seen in the rebellions in the aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd, then police are arrested (though as of yet to be convicted), companies go out of their way to embrace the movement, and demands to defund police departments are not dismissed.
This is the “wisdom” behind the Court’s ruling. Tiara Gendi, from the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project said in a press release from the Transgender Law Caucus, “We have never depended on the Supreme Court to give us what we deserve. …”
The capitalist class, in whose interest the Supreme Court functions, will give concessions when the working class and oppressed are in motion, fighting in their own interests, using the unbeatable weapon of being the producers of all wealth and the vast majority of society.
However, as soon as the struggle ebbs and the people leave the streets, end the occupations, and go back to “business as usual,” then the ruling class politicians start to take back the gains made piece by piece.
The ruling class is a reactionary social formation. They profit off the misery and exploitation of the many. It has been noted that Jeff Bezos became $24 billion richer in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the economy, while millions have lost their jobs.
The super-rich will try to use differences amongst the working class to pit us against each other so that we don’t unite against the real source of misery and suffering, the tiny billionaire ruling-class capitalist class.
They look for anything to divide us. They appeal to bigotry to turn us against each other.
While the Court made a progressive ruling on June 15, on June 11, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized a regulation that removes protection from discrimination for transgender people by doctors, hospitals, and health insurance companies. In callous disregard for the trans community, the announcement was made during Pride month and on the day of the four-year anniversary of the anti-queer terrorist attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
In a remarkably callous fashion, Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the DHHS, commenting on the timing of the announcement, said it was “purely coincidental.”
The ruling removes regulations from the Affordable Care Act that required health care providers and insurers to provide and cover medically appropriate treatment for transgender patients.
That this action was taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic shows the deep bigotry alive and well in the federal government. The action will put more transgender people at risk from the consequences of infection from COVID-19.
Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Caucus stated: “Trans people should be able to seek medical care when we need help without being turned away or denied treatment because of who we are. This appalling move by the Trump administration puts the lives of trans people in jeopardy — especially trans people living with HIV, Black trans people and trans people of color, trans people with disabilities, and trans people living in rural areas and in Southern states.”
Since its first days, the Trump administration has targeted transgender people, hoping to use bigotry and ignorance to attack an already under-served and vulnerable community. Denying the rights of trans people is part of a socially reactionary campaign that also looks to curtail women’s reproductive rights, dismiss the needs of the disabled and elderly, and generally eliminate social services and rights for large sections of the population.
The unity of people from many different communities, backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexes in the struggle against police terror and institutional racism has been a powerful weapon that has ended curfews and has already won modest reforms.
It was this kind of uprising by the LGBTQ community and the population-wide embrace of queer equality that brought the LGTBQ community to where it is today. That is what it will take to push back this latest attack on the trans community and win the basic human right of accessible health care with dignity for the trans community.