Local and state activists in LGBTQ+ communities expressed their surprise and hope at Monday's Supreme Court decision against employment discrimination, but they warned that many challenges remain on the path to equality.
The decision covered both issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. In the cases Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga. and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, the plaintiffs were fired for being gay. In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a transgender woman was fired after coming out. A 6-3 majority decided in their favor, ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects them from that discrimination.
Drew Herzig, chairman of the Pittsfield Human Rights Commission and a member of several LGBTQ+ advocacy and social groups in the Berkshires, expressed his relief at how the case turned out.
"The whole LGBTQ community across the country has had our eyes on this case, dreading the outcome," said Drew Herzig, chairman of the Pittsfield Human Rights Commission and a member of several LGBTQ+ advocacy and social groups in the Berkshires.
"With the way things have been going, this would have been a real death blow to LGBTQ equality in this country," he said. "This is so unexpected but so welcome."
Ashley Shade, member of the board of directors for the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition and North County facilitator for the Berkshire Trans Group, said that this court case expressed a central right of each person to work without fear of losing their job unfairly.
"All people should have the same rights and ability to work. Their orientation or gender shouldn't matter at all," Shade said. "Your gender or your sexual orientation have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you can perform a job."
Few had expected the swing vote of Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's first Supreme court nominee, in securing the victory. Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in this case.
Ed Sedarbaum, founder of Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County, said that although he hopes Gorsuch will continue supporting LGBTQ+ rights, he's not counting on it.
"I was surprised and looked into why Gorsuch wrote the decision he wrote, and I saw that this doesn't mean he's turned into a liberal. This doesn't mean that he is necessarily going to extend more and more rights to LGBTQ people," he said. "What he did is because of his conviction on the meaning of the word sex."
Several community leaders expressed cautious optimism at the outcome of the case but said that many fights lay in the future, especially concerning trans members of the LGBTQ+ community. Shade said that today's victory does not undo the violence and discrimination that trans men and women are facing across the country, especially those who are nonwhite.
“The trans community is hurting. The trans community of color is especially hurting right now, of course; last week we had two trans women murdered in the United States," she said. "We had the Trump administration essentially announcing that trans people don't deserve health care."
But she also acknowledged all the progress that has been made, including Monday's ruling.
"These changes are all wonderful things," she said, "but there's still so much work to be done.”
Locally, Herzig said that the trans community already struggles with adequate health care in Berkshire County.
"The health care availability in the Berkshires for trans people is practically nothing. It's a struggle we're still fighting," he said. "So for trans people this is big, but there's still a lot of work to be done. And for trans people of color in particular, who are basically in the crosshairs of all the misogyny and racism and transphobia in this country, we're with them. We stand with them. We will fight with them."
Tanya Neslusan, executive director of the statewide LGBTQ+ activist group MassEquality, highlighted the importance of a cultural shift following this legal win.
"Just because we gain something legislatively not mean that our work is done," she said. "We still have to make sure that we work to educate people and help to change the culture, change the framing in people's minds about what equality truly means."
Sedarbaum said he worries about whether America can follow through on that cultural shift.
"I think there is a better world coming for LGBT people. But I am a New Yorker; New York City-born and bred, so I am already a cynic. And I am not in a very generous mood when I think about what the people of our country are capable of," he said.
Even with all the challenges that the LGBTQ+ community has yet to face, Herzig emphasized that this Supreme Court ruling is a victory to be celebrated.
"It's not the end, because there are still huge religious exemptions and carve-outs, but this Supreme Court ruling means the way is open to further equality for LGBTQ people," he said. "The door has not been slammed shut. The door has been held open. We still have to push through, but the door is open."
This story has been modified to include a third case that also was decided by the Supreme Court.