Who Can and Cannot Exist in Public?

The NPR notification read: “Showdown Over LGBTQ Employment Rights Hits Supreme Court.” I grabbed my headphones and committed to not going back to sleep, as one does after they involuntarily waking up at 5:05 am.  

The piece from Morning Edition gives a breif rundown of the case at hand; today, October 8th, 2019, the United States Supreme Court Justices are listening to a set of cases testing whether the federal law that bars sex discrimination in employment applies to LGBTQ employees.  

Nina Totenberg goes on with a concise summary of the two most highlighted individuals in the case: Gerald Bostock and Aimee Stephens.  Both Bostock and Aimee were fired after coming out as gay and transgender to their employers, respectively.  

This case reminds me of the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  In my opinion, what will come of today’s ruling may be much more significant to our society going forward.  Cakeshop v. Colorado made headlines and started the national conversation about whether or not refusing service based on to certain groups of people is backed by the 1st amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.  There are clearly some stark differences between the cases. First and foremost, what is at stake today is a person’s ability to make money, not just spend it. Furthermore, in 2018 when the court made the decision Justice Kennedy was on the court.  Now that Justice Kavanguh is on the court LGBT+ rights advocates and activists have much more to worry about.  

The case also brings up some interesting aspects related to our current societal constructs of privacy.  In the book, Freedom for the Thought We Hate, by Anthony Lewis, a quote from Justice Brennan reads: “Exposure of the self to others in varying degrees is a concomitant of life in a civilized society which places a primary value on freedom of speech and press.”  What sort of information about their lives and identity will individuals be able to make public, or have to keep private, in order to have access to opportunities in the United States? In what civilized society does its citizens have to ask that question?

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