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LGBT athletes celebrate Supreme Court decision: ‘Thank you so much, Aimee Stephens’

Out athletes, like everybody in our community, are celebrating the landmark decision that applies civil rights protections to LGBT workers.

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Aimee Stephens was fired from a Michigan funeral home in 2013 after announcing she was transgender.
Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The LGBTQ community is celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling that federal civil rights law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination, and unsurprisingly, many of our favorite out athletes are expressing their elation.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex, also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. The ruling was 6 to 3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the liberal minority, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.

The ruling is a stunning victory for LGBTQ people, given the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, and recent appointments of Justices Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. It’s worth noting that Kavanaugh, who was narrowly confirmed to the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, authored the minority opinion.

It was the court’s first ruling on LGBTQ rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in all of the Court’s previous landmark gay rights cases.

“It just so happens to be my birthday today,” tweeted trans powerlifter JayCee Cooper. “Thanks for not fucking it up SCOTUS.”

The decision covered two cases: a pair of lawsuits from two gay men who said they were fired due to their sexual orientation, and a lawsuit from a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired from a Michigan funeral home in 2013 after announcing she was a transgender woman and would start wearing women’s clothing to work. Stephens died May 12, just one month before the landmark ruling.

Trans Hall of Fame triathlete Chris Mosier thanked Stephens for her sacrifices and perseverance.

The Supreme Court’s ruling might be especially impactful for transgender people, given the possibility it could block the Health and Human Services Department’s recent ruling that would remove nondiscrimination healthcare practices for sexual orientation and gender identity.

As our Dawn Ennis writes, the Supreme Court has given sports owners a signal it is good to hire LGBTQ. On a corporate level, pro sports leagues have championed LGBTQ rights in recent years, with even the NFL threatening to pull future Super Bowls from Atlanta if Georgia enacted an anti-LGBTQ law in 2016. Most teams in the major U.S. sports leagues now host some sort of Pride Night, and the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLB have all marched in New York City’s Pride Parade.

Every major sports league already labeled sexual orientation as a protected class in union contracts. It is gratifying to see federal law catch up.

As Jason Collins mentioned, today’s exuberance is a reminder of how advocacy pays off, and a motivating factor to keep the pressure on.