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What landmark Supreme Court ruling means for LGBTQ rights

The Supreme Court announced a milestone decision Monday, ruling that job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity is illegal. What is the significance of this decision for LGBTQ rights, even beyond the realm of employment? Judy Woodruff talks to the Human Rights Campaign’s Alphonso David and the ACLU’s Chase Strangio, one of the lawyers who worked on the case.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    To look closer at what this historic decision means for LGBTQ rights, I'm joined by Alphonso David. He is the president of the Human Rights Campaign. That is the largest civil rights organization devoted to LGBT equality. And Chase Strangio, the deputy director for trans justice with the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT and HIV Project. He was one of the lawyers working on the case decided today.

    Welcome to both of you.

    And let me start with you, Alphonso David.

    Just put this in a larger context. What does today's ruling mean?

  • Alphonso David:

    Today's ruling means that LGBTQ people across this country can now go to bed knowing that the federal courts are protecting them from discriminations at work.

    We have had case decisions for the past 20 years that said that LGBTQ people are protected under federal civil rights law. That principle was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. And, today, we have a ruling that says LGBTQ people are protected under federal civil rights employment discrimination statutes. And that is the biggest takeaway from today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chase Strangio, what about for you? How do you — as somebody who has fought for the kinds of rights that were debated before the court and are now handed down in this opinion, what does it mean to you?

  • Chase Strangio:

    You know, this was an incredible day, coming on the heels of so many incredible and heartbreaking days of organizing and resistance.

    And the work has been fought for decades for what is an incredibly basic proposition, that you shouldn't be fired from work just because of who you are. It was a conservative legal principle. It was a conservative test of statutory interpretation.

    And it is incredible to have a 6-3 ruling from the United States Supreme Court that undermines efforts to sabotage protections for LGBTQ that we have seen from the federal government since President Trump was elected.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Alphonso David, so does this mean all the legal barriers just come tumbling down? I mean, what does it mean from a practical standpoint?

  • Alphonso David:

    From a practical standpoint, this decision means that, if you face discrimination at work, you have the ability to seek redress in court under federal civil rights laws.

    But it does not provide comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people. And that is what we are fighting currently in Congress. There is a piece of legislation called the Equality Act. And that piece of legislation would provide comprehensive legal protections for LGBTQ people in housing, in public accommodations, credit, education, retail establishments, transportation, and the like.

    Under current law, there are no federal protections for LGBTQ people in public accommodations, in some public accommodations, no protections in credit. And so we're looking to make sure that those protections are enshrined in law, and that will be the Equality Act.

    It has passed the House of Representatives. It is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Chase Strangio, in terms of rights for trans individuals, an area that you have a special interest in, is this going to make a difference at a practical level?

  • Chase Strangio:

    Yes, I would say two things.

    First, it is going to absolutely make a difference. This, as Alphonso said, is going to ensure that there are employment protections for transgender people across the country and clarify that the federal prohibition on sex discrimination includes transgender people.

    That will likely extend to all of the federal statutes that prohibit sex discrimination. It also undermines the efforts by the Trump administration to encourage discrimination against trans individuals and all LGBTQ people in health care, which is absolutely integral to our survival.

    And, at the same time, a formal legal ruling isn't the end of the story. We have a ton of work to do to protect our black trans siblings from the violence that they are experiencing at the hands of the state, at the hands of individuals. And we have to keep organizing; 15,000 people showed up in Brooklyn on Sunday, yesterday, for trans lives.

    And so that is part of what ensures that the material impact of today's decision is felt, that we don't lose momentum. But, absolutely, today is a huge moment for trans people. It's a huge moment for the whole LGBTQ and the whole civil rights community.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Alphonso David, I want you to pick up on that, because it was just on Friday that the Trump administration moved to remove protections for trans individuals under the Affordable Care Act.

    Is this in any way going to change the argument with regard to that? Is that still standing?

  • Alphonso David:

    That is still standing, unfortunately.

    As you said, the Trump administration finalized regulations on Friday that would effectively discrimination against transgender members of our community and gender-nonconforming members of our community, as well as women.

    We believe the Trump administration has exceeded its authority. They do not have the authority to rewrite the law. And that is effectively what they are trying to do. We believe this decision should have an impact on executive administrative actions.

    But if the Trump administration continues to advance these regulations, and they refuse to rescind the regulations, we will be advancing legal action. We did announce on Friday that we are commencing legal action against the Trump administration.

    I'm hopeful that today's decision allows them to reflect and rescind those regulations, but, if they refuse to, we will be suing them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And let's continue with that, Chase Strangio, because it's not just this move that was on — took place on Friday. It was steps by the Trump administration to say transgender individuals can't legally serve in the armed forces and a number of other steps they have taken.

    So, what do you see as the task that lies ahead of you and others who are fighting for transgender rights?

  • Chase Strangio:

    The Trump administration is not the final word on the meaning of discrimination because of sex. The Supreme Court is.

    And, today, the Supreme Court made unequivocally clear that discrimination because of an individual's sex includes discrimination against LGBTQ people. So, I agree. I think that the HHS regulation is void. I think that efforts to discriminate against transgender students are no longer consistent with the statute, as has been made clear by the Supreme Court.

    But all of these issues will be percolating and are already being litigated in the lower courts, in terms of the extent of protections in the context of education, in the context of housing and shelter, as well as under the Affordable Care Act in the context of health care.

    When it comes to the ban on military — open military service by transgender people, this will apply to civilian contractors. Title VII does apply. Title VII does not apply to active service members. So the fight over the transgender military ban continues. It continues in the lower courts.

    Unfortunately, the Supreme Court allowed the ban to go into effect. But, ultimately, a new president could take away that ban almost immediately. So, there are so many fights ahead. And some of them will be litigated in the lower courts. Some of them can be fixed by executive action.

    But, ultimately, we're going to keep fighting in every possible way to ensure that our full LGBT community, particularly the black and brown people, who have been leading the fight and who have been taking the brunt of the discrimination, are leading the fight and centered.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Alphonso David with the Human Rights Campaign, Chase Strangio with the ACLU, we thank you both.

  • Chase Strangio:


  • Alphonso David:

    Thank you.

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