It’s been a long and difficult struggle for healthcare workers who identify as LGBTQ+. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on health facilities and communities across the country. Many providers have been worried about their health and safety. Personal protection equipment has been limited at many facilities and testing for the virus remains scarce. On top of these concerns, LGBTQ+ providers have also had to worry about being fired due to their sexuality or gender identity.
But not anymore. The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled to extend protections for LGBTQ+ workers to all 50 states, a massive win for LGBTQ+ providers everywhere. Finally, these hard working professionals can go to work without worrying about being fired for who they are or whom they love.
Fear of Discrimination Amid the Pandemic
As if dealing with a global pandemic isn’t stressful enough, LGBTQ+ care providers have been living with the risk of losing their jobs for years. Until today’s landmark ruling from the Supreme Court, it was legal to fire workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in 21 states. If an employer discovered one of their workers identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, it could be grounds for dismissal.
Across the U.S., healthcare workers, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have been working tirelessly to save as many coronavirus patients as they can. This has often meant living with the daily threat of infection, being separated from friends and family to limit the spread of the virus, and watching countless patients die day in, day out.
As we’ve been reporting, the pandemic will likely have a long-term effect on America’s healthcare providers. Many of those who have served on the front lines will go on to experience effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hospitals and ERs have been turned into war zones as providers make life-or-death decisions in the blink of an eye.
Providers who worked in states that allowed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity may have had to hide their identities while at work. This means living in the closet while saving as many patients as possible.
A Triumph for the LGBTQ+ Community
Today’s ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court was seen as a major victory for the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. From the legal perspective, the Court looked at Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says employers cannot fire their employees on the basis of sex, among other reasons. Today, the court decided that “on the basis of sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity as well, not just the sex people were assigned at birth.
Previously, 29 states had laws in the books that protected workers based on sexuality and gender identity, but the ruling extends these protections to employees in all 50 states. The Supreme Court upheld rulings from several lower courts that said firing employees for identifying as LGBTQ+ amounted to discrimination based on sex, thus making it unconstitutional.
Several plaintiffs helped bring the case to the Supreme Court. One is Gerald Bostock, who was fired from his job in Georgia after joining a gay softball team. The relatives of Donald Zarda also sued after Zarda was fired from his job as a skydiving instructor after coming out of the closet to a patron.
This issue was seen as one of the most pressing for the LGBTQ+ community. No one should have to go to work fearing persecution for who they are. Everyone needs a job in today’s economy, and persons who identify as LGBTQ+ can now seek employment without fear of retaliation, including the next generation of doctors and nurses. Healthcare providers who identify as LGBTQ+ are celebrating the ruling by doing what they do best: helping others.