The U.S. Supreme Court heard three cases regarding the classification of LGBTQ protections under Title VII on Tuesday. The day’s arguments were aimed at the question of whether it should be legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in terms of employment, housing and public accommodations, on a federal level. The high court is deciding whether to expand such policies to the 28 states that don’t have any such legislation on the books.
What’s more troubling than the fact that the majority of states allow LGBTQ discrimination to persist is how easily and quickly that prejudice can manifest. A stern example of this is the case of Atlanta-native Gerald Bostock. In a self-penned piece for Out Magazine, Bostock, who came out publicly in 1994, unravels how his 20-year career in child protective services and social work came to an end in 2013 after joining a gay softball league.
It was January 2013, and I had just beaten prostate cancer. I was just starting to feel like myself again and wanted to prove — largely to myself — that I had overcome the physical and mental strain that cancer wrecked on me. When I put on that softball uniform, I could have never imagined what was to come.
Like I had done for the last 10 years, I encouraged my teammates to become CASA volunteers. Recruiting more volunteers meant we could serve more children, and I was excited to bring more diversity to our program. Yet shortly after joining the softball league, I started to hear disparaging comments at work. I was suddenly and falsely accused of mismanaging program funds, even though I always filed reports on all my expenditures and never broke any rules.
On June 3, I came to work and found my access card was not functioning. When I asked for help to access the building, I was shocked to learn that I was being fired for “conduct unbecoming of a Clayton County employee.” It was very clear to me, however, that I was being fired because I am gay.
His firing also eliminated his health insurance while still recovering from prostate cancer treatment. But Bostock hasn’t taken this lying down. His case is one of three the Supreme Court heard on Tuesday after both a U.S. District Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals both claimed that current civil rights legislation doesn’t protect the LGBTQ community.
Stories like Bostock’s are all too familiar. A 2019 report by Out and Equal, a non-profit focused on LGBTQ workplace equality, found one in four LGBTQ employees experienced employment discrimination in the last five years.
Disproportionate statistics like that are why Bostock’s case is so significant. And that importance isn’t lost on Bostock. “This is more than a legal issue; it is a human issue. I hope the court will see that my case represents addressing not only the hardship that I’ve experienced, but also the immense and detrimental impact homophobia in the workplace has on our nation,” Bostock wrote.
It’s crazy to think that participating in a gay softball league sent Bostock down this long and painful path, but he doesn’t regret the potential catalyst for widespread LGBTQ protections.
“When I look back on joining that softball league, I have no regrets. I am very proud of the work I did in Clayton County and what we accomplished on behalf of all the children who needed us. I have never apologized for being true to myself, and I never will,” Bostock said. “One thing my battle with cancer taught me is hope is everlasting. With this enormous hope clutched tightly to my chest, I ask the justices to consider my human rights and the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ Americans and right this wrong.”