Aimee Stephens to Be Honored at ACLU Annual Dinner

Eve Kucharski
By | 2018-10-31T15:45:17-05:00 October 31st, 2018|Michigan, News|

Although her legal battle began in 2013, Aimee Stephens is still fighting for the right not to be fired simply for being transgender. A former employee of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home, she announced to her team members that she would be transitioning from male to female and lost her job as a result. Now, even though the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the funeral home’s actions are a form of sex discrimination, Stephens stands at the brink of a review by the Supreme Court of the United States — potentially reversing the ruling in her favor. Despite this reality, the ACLU has chosen to recognize Stephens for her landmark case at their Nov. 9 Annual Dinner, among four other honorees.
“We wanted to honor Aimee for her courage and her bravery coming forward with her case,” said Jay Kaplan, ACLU Staff Attorney. “Not only to redress the harm that was done to her but to also (demonstrate) her willingness and her commitment to try and make things better for other people in the transgender community.”
Stephens said that despite the years-long struggle and her recently-developed health issues, she doesn’t regret coming out when she did.
“There’s a certain amount of happiness that I feel each day that I can be me and know that I actually am me,” Stephens said. “Early on in years gone by I’ve wondered, ‘Who am I really? Will I ever get the chance to find out?’ And I’ve gotten that chance to find out. I’m happy with what I’ve found out and I just want to be me.”
And she’s happy to continue the battle to let other be themselves, too. Stephens stated that even though she couldn’t have predicted the length of time it would take to fight for her cause, it’s something she’s ready to fight for “till it’s done.” But despite her fervor, she said she was surprised to learn that the ACLU was honoring her for her dedication to this case.
“Jay was the one who told me and it’s pretty exciting,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see everybody that’s been working hard and let us all get a chance to lay eyes on one another and become closer than we have.”
Still, even with a well-deserved celebration of Stephens’ efforts, she said she’s aware of the high stakes of this case, particularly at the hands of an administration that has declared its dedication to removing rights for the transgender community. Kaplan agreed, too.
“We have a long way to go, particularly with this administration that seems that (at) every opportunity is trying to take away rights, take away the hard-won gains made by the transgender community,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan added also that with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, if the case does makes it to review he might be another hurdle in Stephens’ way.
“We don’t have much on the record of Kavanaugh as a judge concerning LGBT rights, except that we know that he worked in the Bush administration which opposed marriage equality and there was a time where a constitutional marriage amendment was introduced by the Republican majority Congress (and rejected),” Kaplan said. “But I think what the Trump administration is trying to do is they’re trying to change the definition of a person’s sex and gender as a way to basically erase transgender people from that realm so that they do not have the protection of federal civil rights law. It’s a cynical political ploy but, more importantly, it’s hateful and despicable.”
For now, however, Stephens said that she’s done “all that she can do.” When asked how she remains strong despite the odds, she cited a piece of advice that has kept her going for years.
“Hold your head high, be proud of who you are and don’t let anybody tell you any different. That’s what I’ve tried to do,” Stephens said. “The idea that you can be treated this way is just inhuman. We’re people, too, and if you’re a human being, a part of the human race, then everybody in that same human race deserves the same unalienable rights and everybody doesn’t have them. And until we fight to secure those, it’s never going to be wonderful. We just have to keep going.”
The annual ACLU dinner will be held on Friday, Nov. 9, at the Henry Ford Museum beginning at 6:30 p.m. For more information visit dinner@aclumich.org or call 920-395-8866.

About the Author:

Eve Kucharski
Writing became my life when I enrolled at Michigan State University's journalism program. In May 2017, I earned my bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in electronic news media. I am thrilled to be working as an editorial assistant at Between The Lines.