On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that marked the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, the Trump administration and its allies here in Arkansas continue to be hellbent on turning back the clock on equality.
The Trump administration has proposed rescinding protections for transgender people experiencing homelessness, allowing discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to foster children, and permitting insurance companies to deny coverage to transgender people seeking medically-necessary procedures. Trump’s hateful and unpatriotic ban on transgender people serving in the military remains in effect.
Here in Arkansas, state officials have tried to ban cities like Fayetteville from protecting their LGBTQ residents from discrimination. And they’ve refused to follow the lead of many other states in passing comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
These efforts are more than just antithetical to the principle of equal protection under the law. They’re an affront to Arkansans and a reminder that the fight for equality is far from won. A half-century since Stonewall, pride is still protest.
Despite the efforts of the Trump administration and others, the rule of law still applies. The lack of comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQ people doesn’t give anyone a license to discriminate against people for who they are.
As we continue to work to expand this patchwork of legal protections across our state and nation, we’re refusing to give ground on the existing laws that provide a bulwark against some of the most harmful forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Here are five ways existing laws protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, harassment and exclusion.
Employment. The Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But already five federal appeals courts and dozens of federal district and state courts have affirmed that existing federal laws protect transgender people from being fired for their gender identity. And five years ago, a federal court in Arkansas allowed our client to move forward with her claims that she was fired in violation of Title VII for failing to conform to gender stereotypes because she was transgender.
Health Care. Sex-based discrimination is also banned under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said this includes discrimination based on gender identity and sex stereotypes. That means LGBTQ people can’t be denied health insurance coverage because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – a life-saving protection intended for all Americans.
Marriage. The fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry is enshrined in the landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges – and their marriages and the full benefits of marriage, must be recognized in any state, including Arkansas.
Parenting. This year Arkansas legislators proposed but failed to pass a bill that would have allowed child welfare agencies to use religion to discriminate against and turn away LGBTQ adoptive families that vulnerable children desperately need. This is a fight we have won twice in court and we will keep fighting to hold our ground against these attacks on children and families. Today, no court or government agency in Arkansas can prohibit adoption or fostering simply because of the prospective parent’s sexual orientation. Same-sex couples must also be treated the same as opposite-sex couples in the issuance of birth certificates.
Education. For students, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act prohibits schools from excluding LGBTQ students from education programs and activities on the basis of sex. Courts have repeatedly concluded that federal civil rights laws like Title IX protect transgender students against discrimination, including in the context of restroom and locker room use. That means that all students should be permitted to use the restroom for the gender with which they identify.
Arkansas law goes further, protecting students from harassment regarding their gender, gender identity, physical appearance, or sexual orientation. We frequently stand with LGBTQ youth and their parents and allies to ensure that students’ rights are respected in Arkansas public schools.
Now more than ever, we must assert these rights or risk losing them. The ACLU will continue to fight in the courts, in the state capital, at the local level, and protest in the streets to defend the right of LGBTQ people to be themselves free from discrimination. We’ve come too far to turn back now.