On April 4, 2017, a Federal Appeals Court in Chicago ruled against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. According to NBC News, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origins was expanded to include sexual orientation. This type of decision is uncharacteristic of a federal appeals court and may offer a precedent for other ground-breaking decisions to be made in appellate courts. As members of the LGBTQ community and advocates for gay rights celebrate, they are reminiscent of the long road that led to this decision.
On June 15, 2015, rainbow flags flew proudly as the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. This historic day was recognized by the LGBTQ community as a victory but following the decision, many gay people continued to face discrimination in their daily lives, especially in the workplace. According to the Huffington Post, 21 percent of LGBTQ workers reported that they were discriminated against based on their sexual orientation at work. One such person who felt unfairly treated was Kimberly Hivey, a resident of South Bend, Indiana. Hivey holds a part-time teaching position at Ivy Tech Community College and when she applied for a full-time position, she was never even interviewed. She attributed this surprising rejection to the fact that she identifies as a lesbian and argued that the college had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1974.
In the final ruling of the case, Chief Judge Caroline Wood ruled in her favor. “It is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex,” commented Chief Wood.
This progress at the federal level would not be possible without the dedication of activists in their local communities. Senior Linnea Van Manen, the president of the East Queer Straight Alliance, is an active activist for the LGBTQ community.
“The mission of the club is to provide a place for kids to be who they are without fear of judgement, and a place to discuss issues that are important to us that might not be talked about in other groups,” explained Van Manen.
Van Manen recognizes the inequities that gay people still face today. “The fact that this bill was even proposed is a sign that queer rights activists are nowhere near having reached our goal yet,” said Van Manen. “It is a sign that we need to keep working as hard as we can to make sure that the country keeps taking steps forward instead of moving back.”
The work of clubs like the QSA and other local organizations has set the groundwork for change at the state and national level.
Photo courtesy of www.npr.org/section and www.ncpride.org/pride/pride2011