On Thursday, June 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. a virtual rally will be held to celebrate and explain Monday’s Supreme Court decision that workplace sex discrimination extends to sexual orientation and gender identity. Called Decision Day 2020: Michigan LGBTQ+ Virtual Event, it is hosted by the Affirmations and OutFront Kalamazoo LGBTQ community centers and Equality Michigan, and it will feature a panel of experts who will discuss the ruling. A question-and-answer session for audience participants will follow. Registration is required at this link, and a recording of the event will be widely available for those unable to tune in.
Monday’s decision was a surprise to many, albeit an exciting one. It’s certainly not what Dave Garcia, executive director of Affirmations and the upcoming event’s emcee, was expecting.
“Honestly, I was shocked. I did not expect a complete victory. In fact, I had written some remarks for the virtual rally, and they were all remarks of a loss. I didn’t even write anything for a win,” he said with a laugh. “I was shocked, but we’ve been saying for decades that ‘sex’ should protect us, and that we should be a part of the definition of ‘sex.’ The Obama administration said the same thing, as have many, many, many courts. So if you keep bigotry and prejudice out of it, I think it’s pretty clear it’s the decision they had to make, and I think that is why we had two of the conservative justices on our side with Gorsuch, of all people, writing the opinion.
“Now obviously, this does not cover public accommodation and housing,” he continued. “But I do think it will have a ripple effect in both of those areas because now ‘sex’ as defined in workplace protections includes sexual orientation and gender identity; I can’t see how you can make an argument that that would not be the case with housing discrimination laws, for example.”
There are three main reasons for the rally, as described by Garcia. The first is to celebrate together as a community for the hard work leading to this moment. Second, it will be held to discuss the decision itself so people have a better understanding of what it means and what it does not mean. Having experts on the panel who represent local organizations can really speak to the issues facing LGBTQ citizens of Michigan in this regard.
“And then three, the goal is, ‘OK, now what?’” Garcia said. “Next steps. And those next steps are not just about LGBTQ issues, next steps are working with everything we’re seeing with Black Lives Matter across the country. What does that mean for the LGBTQ movement, and trans women of color continuing to be killed at an epidemic rate? Those are issues we should also be talking about in lockstep with this celebration.”
Garcia explained that the original plan was to do a face-to-face, “march-in-the-streets” rally, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, that’s not possible. Planned for some time now, organizers were just waiting for the decision to come down to make the rally happen on a few days’ notice.
A Personal Note
Twenty years ago, Garcia himself was fired from his job for being gay. As an administrator for Swartz Creek High School’s after-school programs, he was aware of kids being bullied for being gay and offered to help by forming a support group. However, he wasn’t out of the closet professionally.
“I thought I wasn’t acting with the best integrity … so I came out with them, told them there’s nothing to be ashamed of, said, ‘Let’s do this together, start an after-school support group.’ The superintendent says, ‘You’re not doing that.’ This was back in 2000. I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ I got fired. My desk was in the hallway on Monday. And there was nothing I could do about it, because until yesterday’s decision there was no protection in the state of Michigan.
“I don’t want that to be a focus, because [of] Aimee Stephens. Obviously, I’ve been thinking a lot about her,” Garcia continued. “I’m so sad that she wasn’t able to live to see the decision. I know she tried very hard to hang on so that she could see the decision. We had that send-off event when she went to the Supreme Court. She did a lot of her interviews … she always wanted to do them here at Affirmations because as [ACLU staff attorney] Jay Kaplan was telling me yesterday, she just felt safer here. So we had developed a friendship. I really wish she was alive to see this and there was a second plaintiff, too, who passed away and he wasn’t able to see the decision.”
And beyond the plaintiffs, Garcia added how proud he is of “the people whose names we’re never gonna know.”
“[There are] so many people who’ve been fired over decades. I think a lot about them. Because really, with gay marriage, but especially with this, it’s all of us,” he said. “Every single one of us doing a little bit, chipping away a little bit in this fight, that has led to, finally, this moment. It is a time to celebrate and reflect, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
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