In a landmark decision on June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for employers to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. This may seem like a common-sense ruling, but it’s bigger than that. For the first time in our nation’s history, LGBTQ+ people have basic protections from discrimination in the workplace.

Bostock v. Clayton County provides a historic interpretation of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In this instance, this centerpiece of human-rights protection in the U.S. was properly used as a sword, offering overdue protections to all LGBTQ+ workers.  

The Act itself, a product of the Civil Rights Movement and a growing progressive conscience in the 1960s, is not perfect. Its basic charge—to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin—has been elusive because its protections have been twisted by politics of intolerance and prejudice over its 50-plus-year history. In that time, the sword has pointed in the opposite direction of progress, resulting in public establishments becoming private to avoid serving Black people and more recent lower-court decisions validating racially biased admissions practices.

Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism is still present in every corner of our country. It kills Black people like Tony McDade and George Floyd. Tony McDade was a Black trans man shot to death inexplicably after following commands to stop. George Floyd was a Black father whose life was stolen from him under the knee of a police officer on the curb outside a corner store. These were individuals who, in these moments, experienced the kind of personal isolation that comes with being targeted by racist hatred with no hope of institutional support. 

Like the Civil Rights Act, Bostock will not fix everything. The workplace harassment that affects 40 percent of working age LGBTQ+ people will not go away overnight. The high percentage of transgender people facing unemployment in the best economic times will still confront bias from employers. LGBTQ+ folks continue to lack healthcare safeguards, especially after the Trump administration rolled back explicit transgender healthcare protections. We still lack adequate protection in public accommodations, an issue North Carolina has been center stage on for the wrong reasons (e.g. HB 2, HB 142, NDO prohibitions, and billions in lost economic impact).

But the Bostock case gives us hope because it validated Mr. Bostock, a county employee who was outed and fired because he was gay, and the experience of every LGBTQ+ worker who has experienced workplace discrimination. The result in this case will transform workplace expectations for tens of millions of LGBTQ+ workers.

While that happens, let’s use the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a sword to root out discrimination and racial bias so that workplaces, schools, and corner stores can be safe for all Black people in this country. We cannot rely solely on our laws to do it. We need you to validate the experiences of Black people, hold the people in your life accountable for racial bias, protest centuries of abuse and apathy that contributed to George Floyd’s death, and fight for real reform, so we feel less alone. And safe.

Vernetta Alston represents District 29 in the North Carolina House of Representatives. 

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