S.C. attorney general filing could further erode LGBTQ rights, advocates say

Wilson claims brief is about the rule of law


S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson
Last week, South Carolina's top prosecutor signed onto a brief to the Supreme Court that asks to rule against three individuals who were fired from separate employers for being LGBTQ.

The brief argues that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, national origin, color, or religion) does not protect individuals against discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, the brief states that the only laws should be created by Congress, not the courts.

"This is a cruel, unnecessary move that does nothing to strengthen our state's economy and grow our workforce," Susan Dunn, the legal director for the ACLU of South Carolina, wrote in a press release. "If President Trump and Attorney General Wilson get their way at the Supreme Court, it will give the Trump administration permission to take even more dangerous actions against transgender people, including denying health care or kicking people out of their homes."

In response, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson insisted that the brief is not about discrimination.

"Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong. Period," Wilson's office told City Paper via email. "However, this Brief is about the rule of law. The Judiciary cannot make the law but only interpret it. We signed onto the brief because we believe it's the job of Congress to write the laws, not the courts to do so."

Two of the three cases have received rulings in favor of the complainants. In 2010, Don Zarda was fired from his job as a skydiving instructor in New York because he was gay. Eight years later, a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that gay men and women are protected from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Aimee Stephens was fired from her job at a Michigan funeral home in 2013 for being transgender. A district court ruled that, while transgender men and women are not protected under Title VII, Stephens was, in fact, discriminated against.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appealed the case, sending it to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ruled in favor of Stephens.

Appeals for both of these cases will go in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 8.

"We aren't asking for special treatment," says Chase Glenn, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, in the same press release. "We are simply asking to be able to live free from fear of being fired for who we are. Taking the step to legalize discrimination based on a person's gender identity is not only hurtful to trans people, in the end, it's bad for business."

South Carolina remains only one of four states that does not have laws specifically against hate crimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Ahead of his re-election last year, Gov. Henry McMaster told the City Paper that he believes everyone is protected under current law and that he is not in favor of new regulations.

Since 2018, four black trans women — Sasha Wall, Regina Denise Brown, Denali Berries Stuckey, and LaDime Doe — have died from violence in South Carolina.

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