You might be one of every two Americans who believes that there is a federal law protecting lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Because according to a 2019 Reuters/Ipsos poll, nearly half of all Americans think there are federal protections in place, at least for the cisgender members of the queer community. This week serves as a reminder that there is no such federal law in place, because the Supreme Court is hearing three cases that can determine whether LGBTQ people should be protected from employment discrimination.
The country’s highest court is hearing cases about three workers across the country who were fired after coming out or being outed at work. The American Civil Liberties Union says that Michigan funeral director Aimee Stevens was fired from her job after telling her employer she would be adhering to their dress code for women; and New York skydiving instructor Donald Zarda and Georgia child welfare services coordinator Gerald Bostock after their employers learned they were gay.
The question before the Court is whether federal law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. And this is crucial, because currently, only 21 states have laws protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 State Equality Index.
So if you’re queer and nervous about the decisions this week, it’s not without good reason. These cases are arguably more important than marriage equality in terms of deciding the employment fates of trans and LGB people across the country. If you’re feeling the strain, anxiety, and agony of being told that who you are makes you unqualified to support yourself and your family, know that you’re not alone.
Here are important ways to care for yourself this week.
1. Check Your State’s Laws
Knowing the facts can help, even if the facts are devastating. Do you live in a state with employment protections? Healthcare protections? This chart compiled for the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 State Equality Index can be a good starting point for helping you check what protections your state might have for you. Your employer might also have their own policies about discrimination and harassment, so finding out about those can be helpful, too.
2. Step Up For People Who Are Multiply Marginalized
According to data collected by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2017, around 90% of all trans employees have experienced some kind of discriminatory behavior at work. But this grim reality is compounded by structural racism, both for trans and cis LGB people of color. According to a 2012 collaborative study between the Movement Advancement Project and other research organizations, LGBT workers of color are more likely to be unemployed than white LGBT workers, and are also more likely to be raising children than their white peers.
So if you’re a white and/or cis queer person grappling with the way LGBT people’s ability to make a living is being decided this week, remember to step it up for your POC and trans (especially trans POC) friends this week. That can include checking in personally and, if you’re up to it, some policy-oriented activism or contributing to a QTPoC (Queer and Trans People of Color) organization near you.
3. Check In With Your People
You might not be in a position to have a group of queer people around you IRL, either this week or in your community in general. But this is as good a time as any to reach out for understanding and support in spaces where you feel safe, even if that’s anonymously on that Tumblr that no one IRL knows you have. And if you have the emotional energy to offer support, those spaces and people might well need you right now. Remind yourself and each other that you’re not a burden and you deserve the right to work, to pay rent, to live. Even if that reminder comes in the form of a cat .gif or a simple, “Hey, thinking of you” text.
4. Ask For What You Need
We’re often told that, when coming out, we should consider the feelings of people around us. Whether that’s if you’re trans and coming out to someone you’ve just started dating, or if you’re a person trying to come out to your parents amidst claims that it’s ‘selfish’ to do so, queer people are so often told to be selfless around our queerness. But it’s OK to be selfish. You can ask the people in your life (and especially cis, straight allies) for what you need, always but also this week in particular.
5. Create Space For Yourself
This will mean different things for different people, but remember that you’re allowed to take up space. That might mean cancelling plans tonight, or making plans for tomorrow night that are just about you and just about fun. (Do your friends, for some unknown reason, not want to see Abominable? This is the perfect week to ask them to go with you anyway.) You can carve out space for what you need, whether that means inviting people into your space or asking people to give you your own.
6. Create An Action Plan
You might give yourself all the coping space in the world, but you still might need a plan for how to cope. That might involve strategies for being out at work in the midst of all this, or it might involve how to handle suddenly feeling even more unsafe coming out at work to begin with. And if you’re looking for a job, that might open a whole new set of issues regarding coming out while on the job market. Wherever you are in terms of employment, there are LGBTQ employment resources to help you.
You don’t actually have to know everything that’s going on with the Supreme Court. You don’t. You’re allowed to take a step back and tune it out. Might you need to know certain things down the line? Sure. But do you need to know everything now? No. Sometimes, self-care is avoiding the issue for a while, so you can live your best life and do what you need to do for yourself. And that’s OK. So if you need to unplug from news sites and/or social media so you don’t have to see the discourse and feel the tension, then unplug. You’re allowed.
Whatever you decide to do for yourself, you know that this is not new. That discrimination against queer people and our livelihoods are not uncommon. And if this feels overwhelming and you need further support, there are resources available to you.
“As the rights of LGBTQ people are discussed publicly and at the highest levels of government, The Trevor Project will always be here to let LGBTQ youth know they are not alone, that we will always fight to keep LGBTQ youth safe, and as always we will be available 24/7 for any and all LGBTQ youth in their moment of crisis,” Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people, said in a statement shared with Bustle.
You can connect with crisis hotlines like The Trevor Project to talk to a trained counselor about how to manage any feelings of overwhelm. You can call The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386, connect via online chat, or texting 678-678 for support. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
No matter what the Supreme Court decides, you are worthy and deserving of self-care and support.