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Supreme Court ruling a bright spot during tough times, says Durango LGBTQ supporter

Historic verdict was decided in a 6-3 vote, with two conservative justices joining majority
About 15 LGBTQ-rights advocates gathered outside Bayfield Town Hall on Oct. 17, 2019, with flags and signs to protest a meeting of community members opposed to or concerned by LGBTQ lessons in Bayfield schools.

In a historic 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that employees could not be fired on the basis of their sexual or gender identity. The decision, a surprise to many observers of the conservative court, was celebrated by members of the LGBTQ community in Colorado and elsewhere.

“I’m very excited,” said Kyle Finnell, a board member of Four Corners Alliance for Diversity. “Especially during the times that we’re in right now. It’s good news to hear and very uplifting, especially during Pride Month of all times.”

The ruling takes place amid a pandemic and widespread social unrest over the treatment of African Americans by police, and Finnell noted that the modern gay rights movement began with early activists like Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman.

“To hear something so monumental happen in the midst of this is so overwhelming,” Finnell said. “We can trace back to how Pride even became a thing which is black trans women who started this movement at Stonewall.”

The ruling also takes place days after President Donald Trump removed an Obama-era executive order prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in health care. It’s now unclear whether or how Trump’s repeal of the rule will be enforced in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The majority opinion was written by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative Trump appointee. In the opinion, Gorsuch wrote that because discrimination against a person’s gender or sexual identity is by its nature a decision made based on the sex of an individual, it is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

“We agree that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex,” Gorsuch wrote. “But, as we’ve seen, discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second. Nor is there any such thing as a ‘canon of donut holes,’ in which Congress’s failure to speak directly to a specific case that falls within a more general statutory rule creates a tacit exception.”

Though it’s impossible to quantify the number of people who have been discriminated against in their workplace in Southwest Colorado, the issue of protections for members of the LGBTQ community has come up recently in the form of school policies. Last year, a Bayfield community group planned to pressure school board candidates to remove a phrase intended to specifically protect transgender status in the district’s non-discrimination policy.

That, Finnell said, is why the Four Corners Alliance for Diversity has been expanding its range throughout Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners, hosting trainings for business owners and community members as it expands.

“We want to constantly do what we can to bring people together, and it’s all about unity,” Finnell said. “Hopefully, with this ruling ... people will finally start listening.”

Jacob Wallace is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Journal and The Durango Herald.

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