More than a decade ago, as a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park, I had my first piece of writing published. It was an opinion column in the student newspaper, in which I identified myself as a gay student and argued for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The column simultaneously launched me out of the closet and launched my journalism career, and I’ve written much about the fight for LGBTQ rights since. I was in Baltimore City Hall just after midnight on New Year’s Day 2013 to cover some of the first same-sex marriages ever allowed in Maryland. I helped cover the U.S. Supreme Court’s subsequent rulings clearing the way for gay marriages nationwide. I maintained a blog dedicated to LGBTQ issues on The Baltimore Sun’s website. And last year, I got married myself, to my sweet husband Aaron.
I did all of that with the encouragement and staunch support of my family and friends, but also my editors and colleagues here at The Sun. And for that, I am extremely lucky.
Right now, the Supreme Court is again considering arguments that strike at the core of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans’ standing as citizens of a country that we all wish to be fair-minded and just, despite all its present ills and past failings.
The court is considering whether LGBTQ individuals can be fired from their jobs for being who they are, loving who they love or expressing themselves in harmless, unobtrusive ways. (One of the plaintiffs was fired after joining a gay softball league.)
Even with the national and local news cycles constantly blasting us with ever-more-appalling attacks of violence, corruption and democratic degradation, it has been particularly jarring and personally disorienting for me to watch the nation’s highest court earnestly discuss whether being true to one’s innate identity at work should be grounds for termination.
Are we really still in such a place where categorical discrimination of minority groups — for the personal comfort of a shrinking group of sanctimonious Americans who thrive on disparity — should be entertained as even moderately justifiable in our most vaunted halls of justice?
The answer may be yes, but it should be no.
This hot, crowded world isn’t getting any bigger, and that insidious delusion of some utopic, homogenous, heteronormative America isn’t ever coming true.
We should be moving, as a nation, toward a society where we increasingly value each other’s differences, rather than one in which we further enshrine into law obviously unfair legal relics of our brutish, uncivilized past, such as the ability of employers to rip someone’s livelihood from them simply for who they love.
Having had the privilege of working my entire professional career out of the closet, it is demonstrably clear to me that my ability to be proudly gay in the workplace has made me a vastly better employee, a much happier person and a far more successful contributor to society. It has done the same for all my gay friends who have enjoyed the same privilege. But there are many, many others who have not had that privilege — most notably transgender people of color, whose intersectional identities expose them not only to hate but to compounding discrimination abetted by unjust arbiters of some of the same kinds of laws now being considered by the high court.
But there is hope. The courts in this country have held, thanks to the pioneering work of civil rights leaders before us, that the discomfort of customers is not a legitimate reason for employers to discriminate against employees. And they’ve taken an expansive view of existing protections against discrimination based on sex.
On the matter of whether LGBTQ people can be fired for who they are or who they love, that precedent should serve as the final word.
In my mind, there is a clear progression, vivid in its impact on my own life, from where this country stood before same-sex marriage was legalized, and where it stands now. All the happiness and love and increased equity that was envisioned by marriage advocates came to be, while none of the melodramatic predictions of the opposition did. The institution of marriage has not been devastated for the privileged straight majority, nor has there been a stampede of gay nuptials on the altars of our religious denunciators.
The nation’s highest court has the opportunity now to again push our nation forward to an ever more perfect union, or to kick us backward down the track. I hope it chooses, again, to land on the side of love.
Kevin Rector is an investigative reporter for The Baltimore Sun focused on criminal justice issues.