Landmark SCOTUS Ruling Weakens Administration Attempts to Allow Discrimination against LGBTQ People in Shelters

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on June 15 on the civil rights of LGBTQ people. In a 6-3 vote in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. This landmark civil rights ruling protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, extending protections for millions of LGBTQ workers, making it illegal to be fired for simply being LGBTQ. The decision comes as the administration seeks to remove protections for transgender people against discrimination in different arenas. The ruling is a historic victory for the LGBTQ community and sets an important precedent. While the ruling only opens the door to equality in one facet of life, employment, the Court’s interpretation of Title VII may influence lower court decisions on Title VIII/Fair Housing cases dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

NLIHC celebrates this Supreme Court victory and recognizes that efforts to protect the rights of LGBTQ people must continue. This is particularly important during a time when LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color, have been disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting higher levels of unemployment and reduced hours compared to their white, non-LGBTQ peers.

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent indicated that “interpreting discrimination because of ‘sex’ to encompass discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity—is virtually to have far-reaching consequences.” Justice Alito also observed that other federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act ban discrimination “because of sex.” NLIHC will work to ensure these “consequences” include a stop to the administration’s efforts to weaken shelter and housing protections for LGBTQ people.

The majority’s interpretation is consistent with the Equal Access Rule’s 2016 addition of LGBTQ provisions set out to do to ensure protections for transgender people from discrimination in homeless shelters and other HUD-funded services. HUD’s proposed rule change (see Memo, 6/8) would weaken enforcement mechanisms by allowing shelter providers to determine whether to provide emergency shelter services based on the their perception of a person’s sex assigned at birth. While the employment context of the Supreme Court ruling differs from the housing context of the Equal Access Rule, it still can shape how other sectors should interpret anti-discrimination law, particularly for transgender people.

In compliance with HUD regulations, the proposed rule change has been sent to the House Financial Service Committee and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs for a 15-day period ending on June 26. The proposed rule will then be published in the Federal Register for 60-day comment period. NLIHC will work with advocates to prevent HUD from weakening protections for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people, from discrimination in homeless shelters and other HUD-funded services.

The Bostock v. Clayton County decision is at: