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AARP Backs Federal Efforts to Protect LGBT Older Adults

Advocacy group reaches out to Supreme Court and Senate

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En español | With both the Supreme Court and Congress set to consider whether civil rights laws protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, AARP and AARP Foundation have voiced their support for LGBT adults.

In October, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because they are gay or transgender. This week, AARP Foundation filed an amicus — or friend of the court — brief supporting the idea that the law's protections from discrimination on the basis of sex also ban discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Supreme Court's ruling will hold great significance for people age 50 and older. AARP Foundation's brief notes that “one in five older LGBT adults reported recent involuntary job loss due at least in part to their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, and older LGBT workers postpone retirement at a higher rate than the general population, likely due to a lifetime of economic disadvantage.” AARP has more than 900,000 self-identified LGBT members.

The case the court will hear involves three separate alleged incidents of employment discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity. In one, Gerald Bostock started working as a child-welfare services coordinator for the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Georgia in 2003. In 2013, he began playing for a gay sports team and “in the months that followed, Mr. Bostock's participation in the gay softball league and his sexual orientation were openly criticized by someone with significant influence in the Clayton County court system,” according to the petition his lawyers submitted to the court. He was fired later that year. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Clayton County.

In a second incident the court will consider, Donald Zarda worked as a skydive instructor for Altitude Express in New York. In the summer of 2010, a female customer alleged that he touched her inappropriately and flirtatiously while the two were doing a tandem skydive, in which the instructor and the client are “strapped hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder with the client so that the instructor can deploy the parachute and supervise the jump,” according to the petition to the court. The woman said Zarda told her he was gay as they prepared to dive, the documents say.

Altitude Express fired Zarda shortly after they were told of the incident. In his complaint filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Zarda said he was fired because he “honestly referred to [his] sexual orientation and did not conform to the straight male macho stereotype.” Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Zarda.

The third part of the case involves a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job with R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan in 2013 — where she had worked for six years — after telling her employer about her gender identity and her intention to start wearing women's clothing to work. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Stephens in March 2018.

In addition to what could be a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court, Congress also is considering how federal law should address the civil rights of LGBT Americans. In May, the House of Representatives passed its version of the Equality Act by a vote of 236-173. The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to specifically ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in both the public and private sectors.

In a letter sent to the Capitol late last month, AARP asked the Senate to pass that chamber's version of the Equality Act.

"Civil rights and equal opportunity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and government services are essential to foster communities where people of all ages can live and thrive without fear of prejudice and bigotry,” AARP's Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond says in the letter.

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