As the month of October comes to a close, so does LGBT History Month, which kicked off as the Supreme Court considered whether workplace protections apply to transgender and gay workers.
For some Ohio State faculty, this argument hits close to home, as they navigate living and working as members of the LGBTQ community, all the while weighing the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling. As members of both the LGBTQ and Ohio State community, Shannon Winnubst, Joy Ellison and Annatala Wolf said they feel safe at Ohio State, but are concerned about the decision.
On Oct. 8, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether current protections against discrimination apply to sexual orientation. The suit was filed by a man in Georgia citing a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after he said the county he worked for discriminated against and fired him because of he was gay, according to the Oyez website. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex.
Daniel Tokaji, law professor at Ohio State, said there are questions stemming from whether or not sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under the same statute.
“There is a question that some lower courts have had to consider whether the prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Tokaji said. “If the court finds that sex discrimination does not include gender identity or sexual orientation, then that would be a bad result for LGBTQ+ people.”
While Winnubst, Ellison and Wolf said they feel protected at Ohio State, they expressed concerns over what the Supreme Court ruling could mean for LGBTQ employees in the future.
Winnubst, who is lesbian and the chair of the women’s gender and sexuality studies department, said anti-discrimination policies in academia have protected her.
“The university professor is protected. But people who are trying to get jobs for living wages are not protected at all,” Winnubst said. ”That’s why we need these Supreme Court rulings to go in a better way.”
Ellison, a queer and nonbinary transgender Ph.D. candidate who teaches in the women’s gender and sexuality studies department, said it is unclear if the Supreme Court ruling will help nonbinary people.
“Courts define transgender identity using medical standards, so for nonbinary people, that really means that we are not necessarily protected under laws that protect trans people,” Ellison said.
Wolf, a transgender and bisexual lecturer in the computer science and engineering department, said she has not faced obstacles at Ohio State, but is interested to see what the Supreme Court rulings will be.
“I think they will side against transgender protection, which is unfortunate, but change just takes time. It takes a lot of time,” Wolf said. “You develop something of patience for it when you lived long enough.”
Ben Johnson, university spokesperson, said the university strives for an intellectual community that celebrates individual differences and diversity.
“Ohio State is committed to building and maintaining a diverse community that reflects human diversity and improves opportunities for all,” Johnson said. “The university is committed to equal opportunity. We are committed to eliminating discrimination.”
Winnubst said there is an immense amount of anxiety over protecting a binary sex system, and this is an intense time of cultural growth.
“Culturally, we are only going in the good directions on gender and sexuality rights. At the same time, we have to be very real,” Winnubst said. “Trans women of color are done violence against at a much higher rate than any other population that we are zeroing in on. They are targeted for hate crimes consistently. Hate crimes against gays and lesbians still happen in parts of this country.”
Ellison researches transgender history in the Midwest and said they would like more spaces for queer people to create art and preserve their culture.
“It’s [a] very, very important moment to know our history because so many institutions are keen to act as though we are no longer under attack,” Ellison said. “When we know our history, we can see how far we have to go to really be liberated.”