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Know your queer rights: LGBTQ+ court cases that changed the US

Perhaps this is an overly-ambitious undertaking.

But it’s Pride month, and it’s important for you to know your rights. Better yet, to know where they came from and why.

So, here are some of the most important LGBTQ+ cases that have happened in America.

Employment Discrimination Cases

When: This Year,  2020

Bostock v. Clayton County, GA

These three cases hit the Supreme Court, all with common themes.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Gerald Bostock had spent ten years working as a child welfare services coordinator for Clayton County, Georgia. Bostock was considered to be wonderful at his job, receiving positive acknowledgment and awards.

Yet, when he joined a gay, recreational softball league in 2013, things changed. Quickly after, he was fired for “conduct unbecoming of its employees.”

Zarda v. Altitude Express

In Altitude Express V. Zarda, Donald Zarda (who has now unfortunately passed away) was a sky-diving instructor. Sometimes during these jumps, he would let clients who identified as women, know he was gay in order to reassure them about any fears they may have while being strapped to a man.

During one of his dives, he did exactly this, comforting his client. After the jump, the client stated that Zarda had touched her inappropriately and attempted to cover it up with his sexual orientation. Afterward, Zarda was fired from his job. Zarda denied her statement and said that he was being fired purely for his sexual orientation.

RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. EEOC

Then, there is the R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case. In this case, Aimee Stephens had previously worked at the Harris Funeral Homes as a man for the majority of her time there. However, when she wrote to her boss about her gender reassignment surgery and intentions to transition, she was immediately fired.

All three of these cases helped bring the most recent decision from the Supreme Court, which offered LGBTQ+ protection from employment discrimination, thanks to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

When: 2018

Then, there is the infamous wedding cake court case.

In this case, Jack C. Philips rejected making Charlie Craig and David Mullins a cake for the wedding, due to his religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

However, Supreme Court later ruled a reversal of this decision, deciding that bakers are not required to make wedding cakes for people who are queer.

There is a crucial part in this, though. The reversal was heavily influenced by the state’s “hostility towards Philips’ religious beliefs.” This was due to quotes by the commissioner (and previous decisions in other cases regarding bakers refusing to write certain messages on their cakes.)

The quote in question?

“Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”

This ruling did not truly get to the crux of whether or not religion could be utilized to refuse service to queer couples.

Obergefell v. Hodges

When: 2015

This landmark decision did not culminate from just one case but was rather inclusive. Same-sex couples from Kentucky, Ohio, and more places sued their state agencies, all for the same thing: to end the ban on same-sex marriage.

In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, Obergefell and his husband, John Arthur James wanted their marriage to be recognized on their death certificates. There would be two more plaintiffs later on, including funeral director Robert Grunn and David Michener.

The landmark decision in question? This was the case that made it mandatory to recognize same-sex marriages from out-of-state, and allowed same-sex marriages in all states.

Benitez v. North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group

When: 2008

 In 1999, Guadalupe Benitez and her partner, Joanne Clark wanted to have a baby together. Except there was just one problem: her medical clinic, the North Coast Women’s Care Medical Group, refused to give her infertility treatment, on the basis that she was a lesbian.

Now, same sex couples can start a family thanks to a wide variety of fertility treatments available.

Lawrence V. Texas

When: 2003

Did you know that there were American laws that prohibited queer people from- ahem, private, intimate activities, in the comfort of their own homes?

Well, there was, anyway, when police barged in on Lawrence and his lover in a heated moment due to a “weapons disturbance” reported. Then, luckily, this case resulted in the Supreme Court ending all sodomy laws nationwide.

Colín v. Orange Unified School District

When: 2000

When Anthony Colín wanted to create a Gay Straight alliance at El Modena high school, he was told no. It would only be reconsidered if the name of the club was changed and if the club accepted and adhered to special rules that limited their speech.

Fortunately, it was ruled that the club would keep their name and be allowed to meet and utilize school facilities.

Though this case only hit U.S. District Court, it has been used as a precedent for countless other cases, to allow students the right to have a Gay Straight alliance club within their school.

By far, this list is not complete. There are so many cases that have contributed to all the progress made thus far. But at least for now…it’s a good start.