Bryan Bebb, the founder of the Kalispell-based Glacier Queer Alliance, cheered a landmark 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 15 that promised protection from workplace discrimination for LGBTQ people, but cautioned that the ruling is “not the end” of the community’s fight for equality.
The case involved two gay men and a transgender woman, all of whom were fired from their jobs. They argued their jobs should have been protected by a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, known as Title VII, that outlaws discrimination because of sex.
Bebb, like millions of others around the country, had been awaiting the ruling with some trepidation since the case was first argued in October, particularly because of the current political landscape. The Supreme Court is widely viewed as conservative leaning and President Donald Trump has promoted anti-transgender policies regarding military service and health care. The Trump administration argued against the workplace protections.
“At times there was almost no hope of that we would get this type of decision,” Bebb said. “And so I think it says, despite what the current administration is demonstrating, that the left and right are not as divided on the issue of discrimination, on sexuality and gender issues, as it sometimes comes out to be.”
Bebb founded the Glacier Queer Alliance less than two years ago in an effort to provide resources and a safe community for queer people in Northwest Montana. The nonprofit holds regular open-to-the-public events and helps organize the Flathead Pride Festival, along with a number of other small, private support and social groups. GQA also provides visibility for the LGBTQ community here and offers an access point for community allies, and powerful statements like the one made by the nation’s highest court, Bebb said, only help in that regard.
“Anytime we get positive traction it gives community members or potential community members the potential to be valued for who they really are,” Bebb said. “It definitely has meaning here. I have community members that were having a really hard time since October, (because of) the fact that it was even a thing that was debated.”
While the decision does provide protections from workplace discrimination, Bebb and other advocates were concerned that the majority decision — authored by Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch — did not offer broader legal security for the millions of LGBTQ people in the country. Bebb pointed out that other protections, especially for transgender people, are still being threatened. On June 19, four days after the Supreme Court’s workplace discrimination ruling, the Trump administration announced it was moving forward with a rule that would overturn protections for transgender people in health care. That move is expected to face a stiff legal challenge.
“For some (in the community) it’s been really hard to console them that the decision was about the workplace but didn’t necessarily cover health care,” Bebb said. “It becomes really scary if you don’t have the protection to seek out appropriate medical or mental health care, especially if you’ve been able to get that.”
For more information on the Glacier Queer Alliance, visit glacierqueeralliance.org or their Facebook page, facebook.com/glacierqueeralliance. Businesses interested in supporting the local queer community are urged to join the Open to All initiative. More information is available at pridefoundation.org/community-impact/initiatives/open-to-all/.
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