Fair and “Balanced” Always on the Job

Fair and “Balanced” Always on the Job
Aimee Stephens, whose workplace discrimination case was one of three before the Supreme Court, with James Esseks, the director of the LGBT & HIV Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, in Washington on the day of the oral arguments.
Donna Aceto

This week, ABC News had, on its website, a piece on the employment-related legal matters before the Supreme Court this weel. Titled “LGBT Americans look to Supreme Court after being fired ‘because of sex,’” and written by Devin Dwyer, the article is scrupulously “balanced.”

I put balanced in scare quotes because Dwyer, while devoting the lede to our side, nevertheless undercuts its positive message by qualifying an adjective that scarcely needs qualification: “When Anthony Stephens decided to come to work as Aimee Stephens — a gutsy but liberating decision to reveal her true self — she lost her job” [emphasis mine]. I think most if not all of my readers would agree that personally liberating decisions are always gutsy. Why Dwyer chose to make the distinction is unclear.

In any event, Dwyer continues, “The Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider whether Stephens and thousands of transgender Americans are protected from employment discrimination under the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars employers from terminating workers because of sex. The court will also hear cases involving a Georgia child welfare services official and a New York skydiving instructor who each allege they were fired because they are gay.”

“‘The stakes could not be higher,’ said Ria Mar, an attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender project. ‘The potential upside, however, is that the court could send a very powerful message about the status of LGBT people in this country and by not relegating us to second-class status.’

“‘It would be nice to have our rights finally protected, that we have the same basic human rights as everyone else does,’ said Stephens, a transgender Michigan woman who was fired from R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, where she had worked as a funeral director for nearly six years, after coming out. [Dwyer evidently means transitioning.] The funeral home says Stephens was fired for not complying with the dress code for men, even though she was dressed professionally as a woman.”

Naturally (or unnaturally as it happens to be), Dwyer feels compelled to give the fascist point of view for the sake of (here come the scare quotes again) “balance”: “‘If Stephens had wanted to dress in a different way not on company time, that was fine. But as long as anybody was at work, this [company dress code] applied to all employees — male or female,’” said John Bursch, attorney for Alliance Defending [wait for it] Freedom, a faith-based advocacy group that has opposed LGBT legal protections and represents Harris Funeral Home.”

This is nothing but willful ignorance. Stephens is no longer male. Period. To treat transgender folks as if they were simply playing dress-up makes a mockery of basic science, let alone psychology, sociology and reason, not to mention justice. There’s a simple (as in simpleton) quality to the reasoning, a fake clarity echoed by — and rooted in — the most corrupt presidential administration in American history:

“Two lower federal courts sided with Stephens, calling her firing ‘impermissible discrimination.’ The Trump administration, which is not a party in the case, took the step of asking the Supreme Court to reverse the decision [emphasis mine]. ‘Proving discrimination because of sex under Title VII requires showing that an employer treated members of one sex less favorably than similarly situated members of the other sex,’ Solicitor General Noel Francisco argues in court documents. ‘Treating all transgender persons less favorably than non-transgender persons does not violate that rule,’ Francisco wrote.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Our government has taken the active position that it’s perfectly fine to treat transgender folks worse than cisgender people. Open discrimination is, in fact, encouraged.

“More than three dozen high-profile Republicans urged the court in a friend-of-the-court filing to take a “common sense, textualist approach,” arguing that sexual orientation and gender identity — at their core — hinge on sex and should be protected. Dozens of American business giants, including Amazon.com, Microsoft, Macy’s, Nike, and American Airlines have also weighed in, asking the justices to affirm discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers because it’s good for the US economy. The Walt Disney Company, parent company of ABC News, also signed on to the brief, which was joined by more than 200 companies representing more than 7 million employees.

Meanwhile, Reason.com is, in a word, irrational on the subject. Reason is libertarian in bent, a fact that one needs to keep in mind when its writer Scott Shackford informs us that “there’s something of a disconnect here, in that the same people looking for the Supreme Court to expand the law’s scope are also going through the legislative process to have the Civil Rights Act amended to resolve the very conflict they’re bringing before the court.” No, not at all. “The same people,” by which Shackford evidently means the entire LGBTQ community, are forced by circumstance to cover all bases, given the hostility of the Rump Administration to anything resembling civil rights. If there’s any disconnect, it’s between the genuine liberty represented by a law that forbids discrimination on the basis of sex and the fascist right’s efforts to gut that law in the name of “religious” “freedom.”

On another front, media criticism is about what’s not in the news as much as it is about what’s in it. The press has gone silent on the subject of gay East Africans. The government in Uganda has embraced hate, which is — as is so often the case — directed at the LGBTQ community, causing thousands to flee. Unfortunately, most have ended up in neighboring Kenya, in Nairobi, where they are stuck in the huge Kakuma refugee camp or in some of the worst slums in all of Africa, like Kibera in Nairobi.

The UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has been resettling some people, but it is drearily, horrifyingly slow work. What little food, water, shelter, and medicine were offered to help have dried up. Evidently, this refugee crisis has stopped being news.

As a result of all this complicit inaction, people are literally starving, dying from lack of simple medicines or, as in the case of one man, beaten to death by the desperately poor communities they live in, people who have been fed a steady, poisonous diet of anti-gay propaganda.

Unfortunately, the world seems to have abandoned our LGBTQ brothers, sisters, and siblings. Lacking local resources or strong community-based groups on the ground (there are a few, like the Community Support Initiative for Refugees — COSIR kenya), it’s difficult to get resources to people who need them. But that is no excuse for the lack of pressure on UNHCR to accelerate resettlement or the terrifying turning of backs by the so-called free press.

The situation is horrifying, but there is a small but growing chorus of voices to get more of those with deep pockets involved in helping our LGBTQ family in East Africa. Ultimately, what we all need is a cure for homophobia. But first, let’s get people the practical help they need.

And let’s see some coverage of this crisis by those media outlets that consider themselves enlightened on the subject LGBTQ rights, including the basic right to live. The last batch of articles I found online date from last March. Disgraceful.

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