Responding to SCOTUS Ruling By Centering the Fight for Black LGBTQ Lives
By Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, GLSEN Deputy Executive Director
Today, in a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from employment discrimination. During a challenging time for our country, this is a vital dose of hope for LGBTQ youth – and for all LGBTQ people nationwide.
As we celebrate this landmark ruling, we also understand that it arrives as our country is having a deepened and serious conversation about racial injustice – and that new stories about this discussion are breaking daily: Late last week, two Black transgender women, Riah Milton and Dominique Rem’mie Fells, were found murdered. On Saturday night, Rayshard Brooks was killed by the police in Atlanta. And yesterday, tens of thousands of people marched together in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and other cities to declare their support for the Black transgender lives that have been lost to violence and systemic oppression.
Nearly sixty years ago, the Civil Rights Act was passed to protect the rights of Black people – and today, our world is currently alive with rage, protest and reflection because our country has failed to deliver on the law’s promise.
In this moment of pain, anger and transformation in our country, I know that all of us are deeply hurting. Many of you – like me – are personally impacted by police brutality and white supremacist violence, not just when they make headlines, but constantly. It’s heartbreaking and exhausting. And while the protections secured at the Supreme Court today are monumental, we know that it is Black LGBTQ people – particularly Black transgender people – who suffer the most from the intersection of white supremacy, transphobia and systemic violence.
At GLSEN, we believe in the inherent value of Black lives. We believe that Black students – and all Black people – should not only be free from violence and discrimination, but free to experience infinite joy in a world where all Black people are able to cultivate their own dreams and passions. We know that the fight for liberation of Black people must be central to any movement for social justice and equality, and that GLSEN’s mission cannot be achieved until that work is done. And we believe that it is our collective duty – especially for white people – to commit to definitive, long-term action to uproot systemic racism and build a more equitable world. Today’s decision provides another building block of momentum for our collective fight.
We celebrate today’s win, protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination, even as we continue our work to illuminate and end the damage done by racism in school disciplinary practices, and to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. That means we must not waver in our demands for full funding for public schools and an end to the school “choice” schemes that send taxpayer money to schools that discriminate. It means we must loudly voice our support for students like Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, Black transgender girls at the heart of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ cruel attacks on transgender student athletes. It means we must take concrete action to keep Black students, queer students, and trans students safe in schools.
We fight for education investments to support the “whole child,” and for the recognition of the specific barriers to that purpose created by systemic racism in education, and the overwhelming whiteness of our country’s teacher corps.
Now is the moment to reiterate our deep commitment to these efforts. Each member of our community – students, teachers, supporters, and our staff – has a role to play. As a non-binary queer Black woman, I am proud to work alongside all of you. And while it is clear that our work is far from over, today I celebrate and lift up in my heart our loved ones who have not lived to see today’s win.
We continue the work of so many brilliant, vibrant LGBTQ people. We continue our work to build the society that they believed in – and that they deserved.