SCOTUS Will Rule on LGBTQ Job Discrimination. Here’s Where the 2020 Candidates Stand.
Three cases before SCOTUS could enshrine LGBTQ discrimination protections. Democratic Party presidential hopefuls—with a few exceptions—tell us they are hopeful for change.
The Equality Act, which would add outlaw discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, as the Washington Blade reported.
As the Act continues its likely-stymied passage through Congress, the Supreme Court is preparing to rule on whether Title VII bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment.
Seth Moulton, one of the nearly two dozen candidates campaigning for president in 2020, tweeted his support for LGBTQ workplace protections on Monday. The Massachusetts Democrat claimed the “ability to work for a living without discrimination is a fundamental right.”
“The Supreme Court has the rare opportunity to codify this protection for members of the LGBTQ community—they must take it,” he wrote.
Moulton’s pro-LGBTQ statement was not unprompted. Over the past week, The Daily Beast reached out to 2020 presidential hopefuls who had yet to comment about the SCOTUS case on Twitter, where candidates frequently discuss matters of policy and hot-button issues.
Last week, the nation’s highest bench announced plans to weigh in three cases in which workers claim to have been fired because they are queer or transgender. Such treatment remains legal in 29 U.S. states.
The Equality Act, if passed (unlikely in a Republican-controlled Senate), would go even further than even the most favorable of Supreme Court rulings. In addition to adding LGBTQ employment protections to federal civil rights laws, it would expand on that legislation to protect against discrimination in housing, education, and public accommodations.
While a number of Democratic candidates are co-sponsors of the bill, few have said anything about the SCOTUS cases—until now.
In the days following the announcement of the SCOTUS case, just three of the field’s 21 presidential candidates made a statement regarding the precedent-setting case.
Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar both tweeted their support for LGBTQ workplace protections, while out-candidate Pete Buttigieg reiterated his belief that federal civil rights law includes LGBTQ people in an MSNBC interview.
For a Democratic field poised to debate LGBTQ issues in a forum this fall, the initial reticence to sound off on one of the most impactful LGBTQ rights cases in recent memory was a surprise to advocacy groups.
“At this time when marginalized communities are under attack by the Trump Administration, it’s important that candidates running for president from both parties use every opportunity to speak up for equality and acceptance,” claimed Zeke Stokes, chief programs officer for the LGBTQ watchdog organization GLAAD, in a statement shared with The Daily Beast.
When The Daily Beast reached out to the 2020 hopefuls regarding the potentially historic case, a majority took the opportunity to finally weigh in.
However, three Democratic candidates—Julián Castro, John Hickenlooper and Wayne Messam—joined the presumptive Republican nominee, President Donald Trump, in not commenting about the upcoming Supreme Court case.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said that for the court to “rule otherwise would give legitimacy to the corrosive idea that LGBTQ people do not have the same rights extended to the rest of us.”
Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and founder of Venture for America, noted that LGBTQ Americans are disproportionately likely to face poverty or employment. Ruling that queer and trans people are entitled to equal protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would help address that disparity.
“LGBTQ Americans… should be considered a protected class under Title VII,” he said. “The Supreme Court should reaffirm this in their upcoming ruling.”
A handful of candidates—like Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, and Bernie Sanders—noted their support for the Equality Act.
Candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson affirmed their belief in equality for all. Inslee condemned anti-LGBTQ discrimination “in the workplace or anywhere else,” while Williamson claimed any government “should always and without equivocation advocate for the equal rights of all its citizens.”
“Every American deserves an equal opportunity to work and thrive in this country regardless their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender,” Ryan added.
The Daily Beast reached out to Trump’s reelection campaign multiple times, and his team did not respond before publication time. Trump has already made his feelings on the issue known, however.
Shortly after taking office, the POTUS announced his support for the First Amendment Defense Act, which would give broad license to businesses, organizations, and even private individuals who wish to deny services to LGBTQ people on the basis of faith.
Additionally, his administration has already weighed in on one of the three cases pending before the court.
In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit debated whether Title VII covers Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor in Long Island, N.Y. who says he was fired after one of his clients found out he was gay. With former Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the helm, the Justice Department claimed it did not.
A spokesperson for Julián Castro did not clarify his position by press time. Hickenlooper and Messam could also not be reached prior to publication, despite multiple attempts.
These candidates have markedly different records on LGBTQ rights. Often referred to as an early supporter of LGBTQ rights, Castro became the first San Antonio mayor to act as grand marshal of the Texas city’s Pride parade in 2009.
Among the 2020 hopefuls, Hickenlooper was among the last to evolve on marriage equality, only coming out in favor of the freedom to marry five years ago. (By contrast, Harris personally performed same-sex weddings as the district attorney for San Francisco back in 2004.) Under his tenure as governor of Colorado, the Centennial State continued to house transgender women in men’s prisons, in defiance of the 2004 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).
Messam’s views on equality, however, are unclear. After declaring his intention to run for president in a March video claiming that “America belongs to all of us,” the Miramar, Fla. mayor has yet to expound on his LGBTQ rights platform. There’s no mention of the issue on his campaign website.
Here’s what every 2020 hopeful had to say about the SCOTUS case—from those who tweeted about LGBTQ employment protections to candidates who clarified their beliefs when asked by The Daily Beast.
The Colorado senator is one of the co-sponsors of the Equality Act. In a statement sent to The Daily Beast, he wrote, “LGBTQ+ workers should not be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. This administration keeps making one shameful attempt after another to move this country backward.”
Biden did not offer a direct statement on the SCOTUS case. Jamal Brown, national press secretary for Biden for President, spoke on the former vice president’s behalf in an email.
“Vice President Biden’s full support for LGBTQ employment protections, and more broadly, LGBTQ equality, has been clear over the years through his vocal support of the Equality Act, early support for marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, the right for our transgender brothers and sisters to serve openly in the military, and more,” Brown said. “As a supporter of the Equality Act, Vice President Biden believes that LGBTQ people are entitled to equal protection in the workplace under Title VII. And as an out gay man, myself, I am deeply appreciative of Biden's advocacy and impact over the years.”
A spokesperson for Booker’s campaign initially insisted the candidate tweeted about the SCOTUS case, calling him an “outspoken ally for the LGBTQ community since his time as mayor.” However, the April 23 tweet in question was actually a post about the Supreme Court’s decision to weigh in on whether its constitutional for the U.S. Census to include a question about citizenship.
After The Daily Beast noted the distinction, Booker’s campaign responded with a statement from the New Jersey Senator.
“Discrimination should have no place in the workplace or in our society—period. That's why I’ve championed the Equality Act, which if passed into law would ban discrimination against LGBTQ people and protect them under federal civil rights laws. The Supreme Court should stand on the right side of history and uphold critical protections for all Americans.”
Although Buttigieg did not tweet about the impending Supreme Court case, he commented on the need for LGBTQ employment protections during an interview with MSNBC on the campaign trail.
“If civil rights law can’t stop people from being fired for who they are, what is it even about?” the South Bend mayor remarked. “And yet, the court may very well kick it out, which is just one more reason why it is imperative that we get a federal equality act to clear this up once and for all.”
The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development did not return a request for comment.
Delaney did not offer a direct statement on the Supreme Court case. However, Michael Starr Hopkins, National Press Secretary, Delaney for President claimed in an email, “Congressman Delaney supports equal protections for LGBT people in employment and was a cosponsor of the Equality Act.”
“Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community in America still faces discrimination in the workplace, in education, or simply when trying to find a home,” Gabbard said through a spokesperson. “We must ensure equal treatment for all Americans under the law—regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, disability, or national origin. This is why I am a co-sponsor and have been a strong vocal proponent of the Equality Act in Congress—to ensure equal protections for all Americans.”
“I believe that all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the fundamental right to live and work without facing discrimination,” Gillibrand said in an email. “It's clear that the intent of Title VII is to prohibit discrimination against any American, not to pick and choose who is protected from prejudice. For the Supreme Court to rule otherwise would give legitimacy to the corrosive idea that LGBTQ people do not have the same rights extended to the rest of us.”
“The truth is LGBTQ Americans face real discrimination on the job, in our schools, and when trying to find and pay for a home,” Harris said through a spokesperson. “That needs to end. Federal courts have held that the Civil Right Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As Attorney General of California, I filed briefs in support of those cases. This is a moment when the Supreme Court can and should reaffirm them to say once and for all that no one should be treated without equality under the law.”
The former Colorado governor’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment through his info page and a generic press email. The Daily Beast also reached out to a campaign manager for his team with no response.
“No one should face discrimination in the workplace or anywhere else because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Inslee said in an email. “I'm proud that this is the long-standing law in Washington state, and I was proud to cosponsor legislation to do so nationally in Congress. This should be the law across America, and the Trump Administration's attack on the rights of LGBTQ Americans in court is a shameful attempt to turn Americans into second-class citizens because of who they are or who they love.”
Klobuchar tweeted her support for LGBTQ employment protections on April 25. “This shouldn’t be a question,” the Minnesota Senator wrote. “Firing someone for being LGBTQ is discriminatory and wrong.”
Messam did not respond to requests to weigh in on the SCOTUS case. Messages to the Miramar, Florida mayor’s generic press inbox were returned, while emails the The Daily Beastsent through the info page on his website did not garner a response. A spokesperson for Messam claimed to no longer be with the campaign.
Moulton wrote in a tweet, “The ability to work for a living without discrimination is a fundamental right. The Supreme Court has the rare opportunity to codify this protection for members of the LGBTQ community—they must take it.”
“No American should be discriminated against at work or live in fear of losing their job because of who they are or who they love,” O’Rourke said through a campaign spokesperson. “Regardless of what the court decides, we must sign the Equality Act into law, take every other action necessary to put an end to LGBTQ discrimination in this country, and ensure everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
“Every American deserves an equal opportunity to work and thrive in this country regardless their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender,” Ryan said in an email. “As president, I'll fight to unite this country by defending these unalienable rights—not to divide us by who we love or our gender identity—because we all deserve to be able to live the American Dream.”
Sarah Ford, a spokesperson for the campaign, pointed to Sanders longtime support for LGBTQ rights, including the Equality Act. Ford also shared a number of recent social statements that Sanders has made in support of LGBTQ people, although none of them about the SCOTUS employment case.
“I believe LGBTQ Americans absolutely are entitled to equal protection in the workplace under Title VII,” Swalwell said in an email. “Who you love and who you are should never subject anyone to discrimination.”
The president’s campaign team did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Warren was the first 2020 candidate to tweet about the SCOTUS case. “LGBTQ+ Americans have a right to live free from fear and discrimination—and that includes in the workplace,” she said in an April 24 post. The same statement graced her official Facebook page.
“The principles that form the core of our liberty are these: That ‘all men (and women) are created equal,’ endowed by God with ‘unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Williamson said through a spokesperson. “According to the Declaration of Independence, ‘governments are instituted... to secure those rights.’ That means that government should always and without equivocation advocate for the equal rights of all its citizens. Whether in regards to housing, employment or anything else, as president I would consider the rights of LGBTQ citizens sacrosanct and would use all powers available to me to protect those rights.”
“LGBTQ Americans suffer economic marginalization at much higher rates and should be considered a protected class under Title VII,” Yang stated in an email. “The Supreme Court should reaffirm this in their upcoming ruling. To do otherwise would weaken protections for some of our most vulnerable citizens.”