Fired: Students Face Discrimination

Sarah Long, Southworld Editor

On Jan. 13 social media flooded with pictures of Nikkie de Jager as celebrities, make-up lovers, and online magazines rushed to congratulate the Youtube makeup artist. With over 12 million subscribers, de Jager shocked the world with a video where she came out as transgender, revealing her transition to a woman at fourteen. Racking up 24 million views, fans filled the comment section with support.

However, the comments calling Jager a ‘man’ and ‘unnatural’ were not lost in the midst of all the kind words. Luckily, Jager lives on a self-made empire from makeup videos and the comments only tainted the positivity. The economically and socially secure status contrasted strongly with the average LGBTQ+ student. 

With the liberal-leaning media, society consumes the fantasy that America moved past its extremely right-wing ways and moved on to become a more accepting society. But, with the election of Donald Trump, whose brash and unwavering rhetoric of “Make America Great Again” appealed to many voters, LBGTQ+ students watched as politicians stripped away their rights.

Analyzing Title XII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, arguments to the Supreme Court started on Oct. 8 to determine whether the protection from discrimination based on sex prevents employers from firing gay and transgender employees based on sexuality and gender. LGBTQ++ students bag groceries, wait tables, and work every ounce as efficiently as their straight counterparts, but their fear of being fired relies on factors besides arriving to work late or talking back to a customer. 

Transgender employees work in fear, relying on passing as the gender they identify with; a too low voice on a transgender woman or too weak of bone structure on a transgender man may reveal their birth gender, justifying dismissal. For those who proclaim their transgender status with pride, the amount of employers even willing to hire them remains slim. Aimee Stephens, a 58 year old transgender woman, became the center for the fight for equality after her religious employer fired her when he found out her transgender status.

Many opponents argue that the protection from discrimination based on sex refers to gender, not sexuality, and lawyers stretch the act beyond the original meaning. With LGBTQ+ inclusivity becoming a core value in many businesses and a cause of dismissal for others, threatened employees pressure the Supreme Court to outlaw the LBGTQ discrimination in the 27 states that currently allow it- one being Arkansas. The First Amendment protects religious freedom which conservatives argue includes the right to take employees sexuality and gender into account when hiring and firing.

In the case of LGBTQ+ discrimination, left-leaning politicians partially already reformed the laws, which makes the repeated mistreatment so incredibly infuriating for the average LGBTQ+ worker. Feminists protested and won the banning of discrimination based on sex in the workplace in 1964. Nearly 56 years later, fearful LGBTQ+ employees rely on a stretch of the policy to allow them to work safely without the fear of an employer’s personal bias. 

Discrimination based on sex refers to any situation an employer treats a person differently based solely on their gender. Discriminating against gay employees qualifies as discrimination based on sex because it treats men attracted to men different from women attracted to men, and vice versa. An employer could easily fire a female employee after posting on Instagram celebrating three months with her girlfriend Maddie, although they would never do so if a male employee posted about his girlfriend Maddie.

Arkansas remains strongly against forming an accepting environment for those in the LGBTQ+ population, seen by Arkansas Supreme Court justice Jason Rapert who repeatedly tried to fire teachers for simply sponsoring Gay-Straight alliances. But while gay workers find themselves targeted, workers almost always victimize the transgender co-workers. The UCLA school of law surveyed transgender workers, finding 90% of transgender workers faced mistreatment because of their gender during their job, and 26% of them faced dismissal.

Discrimination based on sex applies to transgender employees too. Employers fire female employees assigned the male sex at birth, but not male employees assigned the male sex at birth. The Supreme Court case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) bans discrimination based on stereotypes, such as how masculine or feminine a person dresses or acts. The idea of gender itself relies on stereotypes; when employers decide someone’s presentation as their gender contrasts with the employer’s personal idea of what that gender should look like, it violates Waterhouse v. Hopkins. For example, if a religious employer believes that male employees qualify as female because doctors assigned the female sex at birth, their idea that their employees dress too masculine violates this ruling.

Believing that the creators of the act did not intend to protect gender identity and sexuality from discrimination, many opponents use this reasoning as a core part of their argument. However, the elastic clause of the constitution allows lawyers to extend the original wording to fit more modern meanings, a clear example of which being the ever-present LGBTQ+ community. Lawyers stretched the original meaning of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 before to make its protection from discrimination based on sex include sexual harassment and stereotypes. 

Every year, students learn about the civil rights movement, where revolutionary men and women pushed for their rights. The screaming protestors opposing the removal of Jim Crow laws in the photos remind viewers of the distant past, but in reality many of the same people reside in local nursing homes and encourage their prejudiced beliefs in their children. Just like in the photos, the same pro-discrimination protests still shadow movements of LGBTQ+ acceptance. While it takes different forms, such as the bullying of gay students or the tearing down of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance posters, the ideas remain the same. Moderates blame the discrimination on Arkansas’s location in the Bible Belt, arguing that the laws will change with the people. This attitude’s seemed too passive in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, but became an acceptable viewpoint for many today. The idea of relying on people’s opinions changing with time only shows the privilege many people live within; the discrimination of LGBTQ+ workers marks every day of inaction politicians wait to use the elastic clause to expand Title XII.

While the constitution gives religious freedom, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects the LGBTQ+ community. Many philosophers debate if laws or people’s opinion should change first to move a society forward. In this case, the law must change first. Like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, many opposing people’s opinions cannot easily be changed no matter what facts they are presented with. Under Donald Trump’s presidency, many Americans stress the importance of bridging the gaps between parties. However, if LGBTQ+ Americans perceive that the government does not protect their rights to exist and work, they foresee little chance of unity.

Although the power to change laws themselves relies on the politicians, only the common population drives the change.  While many feminists and LGBTQ+ students widely protest the allowed discrimination, allies- straight people who support the LGBTQ+ community- must use the platform to enact true equality. The same students who walk the halls of Southside may find themselves unable to pay bills or even find employment because of personal prejudices held against them. With the radically partisan environment of the United States, straight students must set aside their disregard for the struggle of others with different lifestyles and use their voice to promote a system that enforces anti-discrimination policies in the place of religious biases.