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Voices / Letters from readers

Supreme Court could push transgender or gay employees into the closet

I finally accepted that I was transgender when I turned 20. I had been denying it to myself for over two years by this point.

This was an utterly terrifying realization.

For months, I agonized over every interaction, hoping and praying that no one could tell that I was trans. I didn’t want to rock the boat by coming out, didn’t want to find out if my bosses and coworkers and friends were transphobic, didn’t want to risk getting fired.

So I stayed quiet and afraid. I came out only after I was on my way to college and I no longer had as much to lose.

The legality of firing employees for being transgender or gay is currently up in the air, so coming out at work is not guaranteed to go well. In addition to potential job loss, every time an LGBT person comes out, we open ourselves up to violence.

The FBI reported 1,434 crimes with anti-gay or anti-trans sentiment as the primary motivator in 2017, an increase of 17 percent from the previous year. With hate crime on the rise, it can be dangerous to come out at all, let alone at work.

Recently, the Supreme Court announced that it would be taking on three cases regarding discrimination against transgender and gay workers. In each case, after an employee came out as gay or transgender, that employee was fired.

Each of the cases has so far been decided on the grounds of whether firing an employee due to their identity is discrimination based on sex, which is barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two of the cases were ruled in favor of the employee, and the third was ruled against.

These are landmark cases with potentially globe-shaking effects. The decision the Supreme Court makes could shape the landscape of LGBT rights for the next few decades.

A negative decision on these cases would open the door for employers to dismiss their employees for living our lives authentically. A negative decision could also push LGBT people into the closet again, as there would likely be an upswing in threats and violence against us.

I am now a student at Landmark College and will be reentering the workforce in a few years. I’d quite like to not have to hide such a large part of myself at work. I’m finally happy, for what feels like the first time in my life, and my acceptance of my identity has been a huge part of my happiness.

A 2017 Gallup poll estimated that around 4.5 percent of Americans identify as LGBT. Do we really want nearly 5 percent of the country to be afraid to live as ourselves? Is that the United States we want to create?

Guinevere Downey

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