Tristan Broussard had been working at Tower Loans in Louisiana for just one week in April 2015 when his boss’s boss showed up abruptly and called them both into a conference room for a meeting.
The general manager then proceeded to ask Broussard whether he had read the company’s dress code. Confused, Broussard said that he had. But the general manager told Broussard that it had been brought to his attention that Broussard’s driver’s license indicated he was female and that he had to draw a line at Broussard, a trans man, “dressing and acting” like a male. Unless Broussard started presenting as a woman, he would be fired.
“It was bringing me and [my boss] to tears,” Broussard told HuffPost on Monday. “It just set me back. It was my first decent-paying job, and I was doing good for myself, and I just got set back five steps over something that had nothing to do with my job. It wasn’t affecting it in any type of way.”
Broussard filed a lawsuit against the company shortly after his termination, and Tower Loans was found to have acted in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And though he was victorious in the suit, the legal process and the burden of not being able to lead a normal life were devastating.
“It almost feels like I have PTSD from it,” Broussard said.
Other members of the LGBTQ community have experienced similar discrimination in the workplace. Nicolas Talbott is one of them. Talbott, a graduate student in Lisbon, Ohio, studying global security, was one of the many trans people who saw their futures in the American armed forces before the Trump administration banned them from enlisting. “More than anything, I felt frustrated and disappointed. I had put in so much hard work and made so many sacrifices to participate in ROTC, just to be told I was no longer eligible to finish the program,” Talbott wrote for NBC in April.
And in 2013, Gerald Bostock was fired from his job for Clayton County, Georgia, for “conduct unbecoming a county employee” after he joined a gay recreational softball team. He filed a workplace discrimination suit in 2016, believing he’d been fired for being gay. But the judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia sought to dismiss his case ― Title VII, the judge believed, did not protect employees’ sexual orientation or gender identity. Bostock’s case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court.
On Monday, the Supreme Court justices voted 6-3 in favor of protecting LBGTQ employees like Broussard and Bostock. They ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under Title VII, which bars discrimination on the basis of “race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.” As written, the initial Civil Rights Act did not explicitly define what “sex” meant.
Today, we can go to work without the fear of being fired for who we are and who we love. Gerald Bostock
“An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.
“That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
Throughout the 20th century, an untold number of LGBTQ people were fired in the United States simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. During the Cold War “Lavender Scare,” thousands of State Department employees, military personnel and federal contractors were purged because they were seen as “sexual perverts,” “Communist sympathizers” and “security risks.”
Later, in the late 1970s, Anita Bryant organized a successful campaign to overturn a Florida Dade County ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by fanning unfound fears that gay and lesbian teachers would “corrupt” students. Her campaign became the lightning rod that would eventually ignite the modern Christian-right movement. Until today, firing a teacher simply because of their sexual identity or gender orientation was still legal in most states.
After the ruling was announced on Monday morning, Broussard was at a loss for words.
“It almost seems unreal,” he said. “You can’t even put it into words. It seems like the laws have been going backwards lately. Seeing this really elevated me.”
Broussard was barely 20 when he was fired from Tower Loans, and he lived with his conservative parents who didn’t support his transition.
“I didn’t have a support system when I decided to transition, my parents were completely 110% not down with it, and here I am, trying to make it out there in the real world, and then Tower Loans shuts me down .… I just think this is a very good thing.”
Bostock also was still in shock.
“There are truly no words to describe just how elated I am,” he said in a statement Monday.
“Today, we can go to work without the fear of being fired for who we are and who we love. Yet, there is more work to be done. Discrimination has no place in this world, and I will not rest until we have equal rights for all.”
While the trans military ban is still in effect, Talbott is working toward his ultimate goal of joining the armed forces ― either the Army or the Air Force, he told HuffPost. And Monday’s Supreme Court ruling gave him hope.
“Just knowing that we have that protection, and getting that affirmation that we do deserve the same rights as other people, that there’s nothing about being a member of that community that should make us lesser persons and thereby have lesser rights … it was so absolutely awesome to hear that ruling.”
Especially, Talbott said, during a time of such economic instability.
“The last thing anybody needs right now in this pandemic is an extra barrier, based on nothing, to keep folks from getting jobs.”