Leaders at forefront of historic LGBT Supreme Court ruling share their stories

Only one of the three plaintiffs lived to see the historic ruling.

June 16, 2020, 9:48 PM

Across the country, LGBTQ Americans are celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling to protect workers from discrimination. Until this decision, it was legal in more than half the country.

The court declared Monday in a 6 to 3 decision that it’s illegal under federal law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. The ruling comprises three separate cases. Of the three main plaintiffs, only one lived to see the court’s decision.

*Watch the full story on "Nightline" TONIGHT at 12:05 a.m. ET on ABC*

Plaintiff Gerald Bostock, of Georgia, was on a conference call when he learned of the ruling.

“I truly think my heart stopped for a moment,” he said. “As soon as I read the words, the few words that were visible, my partner and I, we looked at each other and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we did this.’”

PHOTO: Plaintiff Gerald Bostock, of Georgia, was on a conference call when he learned of the historic ruling.
Plaintiff Gerald Bostock, of Georgia, was on a conference call when he learned of the historic ruling.
ABC

“I was elated. And my heart is just full of joy and also gratitude,” Bostock said.

He was fired from his job in 2013 as a child welfare services coordinator after he says his bosses learned he had joined a gay softball league.

Don Zarda, another one of the plaintiffs, had died in 2014. A former skydiving instructor, he had alleged discrimination in 2010 after he was fired for telling a customer he was gay.

His sister, Melissa Zarda, told “Nightline” he wanted to “make sure other people didn’t suffer the same discrimination.”

PHOTO: Melissa Zarda and her brother Don.
Melissa Zarda and her brother Don.
Zarda Estate

The company for which Don Zarda worked said he was fired for sharing inappropriate personal information. His family has continued to pursue the case, saying Don Zarda’s sexual orientation was the issue.

“This was so incredibly important,” she said of the ruling. “This started out being about Don and what I quickly realized … was that so many people suffer workplace discrimination.”

Of course, Melissa Zarda wishes her brother could be here to see it.

“But we know that he's looking down and that he is so happy with this ruling,” she said. “I realized that across the country this is going to impact millions of people who can easily be themselves at work. And that is huge. That is amazing. That is more than Don could have ever wanted.”

For Raquel Willis, a writer, activist and former executive editor of Out magazine who helped organize a rally for black trans people in Brooklyn over the weekend, the decision brought a sense of validation.

“I think it can't be understated how major this is for the trans community and really for generations to come,” she told “Nightline.”

She said the ruling made her feel “exhilarated.”

“We can’t really have a real conversation on pride without talking about the Stonewall riots, which was a queer militant uprising against police brutality, particularly the New York Police Department,” Willis said. “So when we think about the ways in which white supremacy plagues all black people, it is especially plaguing black trans folks as well. And so we have to have a well-rounded conversation about violence, the different types of violence that marginalized people face.”

ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, a trans man himself, was in the courtroom on the day the ruling was announced.

“To be a trans person sitting there. You know, I do think there’s a lot of power to that,” Strangio said. “We brought in the spirits of our ancestors. So I was looking [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh right in the eye… I was just channeling my very existence and the existence of those that came before to say, you know, we are here and we are not going away. … We will continue to demand to be seen.”

Strangio has been representing the late Aimee Stephens, who died earlier this year. She was fired in 2013 for telling her employer she was transitioning.

PHOTO: Aimee Stephens, who died earlier this year, did not get to witness the ruling. She was fired in 2013 for telling her employer she was transitioning.
Aimee Stephens, who died earlier this year, did not get to witness the ruling. She was fired in 2013 for telling her employer she was transitioning.
ABC

“She was such a kind, understated, humble person who found … a mission to break a path for the next generations, and that's exactly what she did,” he said. “We have to acknowledge that two of the three individuals whose cases were part of this Supreme Court victory died before they were able to see the results of their hard-fought efforts. The reason that they died is directly tied to the discrimination that they face. So these are really life-or-death questions. And I just wish Amy and Don had lived to see this victory.”

Strangio hopes that this is the beginning of a fight for justice that he says is far from over.

“The message that the justices gave us yesterday morning was a very clear message about equality. And I think this is laying the groundwork for what still needs to happen in this country in this time of uncertainty and the civil unrest that's been going on,” he said. “I'm hopeful that this victory that we're all sharing in, that it spreads a little sunshine on the dark days that we've had. … My message is there is hope.”

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