Local LGBTQ community talks about landmark case before Supreme Court

EASTERN CAROLINA, NC (WITN) - Arguments started Tuesday for one Supreme Court case that could change workplace rights for LGBTQ individuals.

Tuesday marked the first time the Supreme Court heard arguments about the civil rights of a transgender person.

Aimee Stephens was a man who transitioned to a transgender woman, telling her co-workers she would return to work as her true self. She was then fired from her job as a funeral home director. She sued, and in a historic case, the Supreme Court will now decide the meaning of "because of sex" in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including if it includes gender identity.

Jeannette Debs, president of a chapter of PFLAG, an organization that allies with the LGBTQ community, said the law should already include gender identity. "The way I look at it is, if the lesbian or gay or transgender person were a different gender, would the rule apply? And if the answer's yes, then it applies. That's what it's about, it’s about discrimination based on gender or sex," she said.

The pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Ronnie Rodgerson, however, said it's up to the business owner and what they want to portray as part of the business. "If you come in, you shave your head to a mohawk, dye it purple and put something through your nose, they may decide that they want to get somebody else to represent them," he said. He also said that God only made male and female and that this is in one's DNA.

Yet Debs said the just don't want to be discriminated against, like anyone else. "They're people just like we are and they want the same things we want. You know, you want to be able to have a home and a job and a family and that's all we all want, really," she said.

22 states and D.C. have statutes protecting workers based on sexual orientation, and 21 states and D.C. have statutes protecting workers from discrimination based on gender identity. Both include North Carolina.

However, the justices’ vote could impact 1 million transgender workers and 7.1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual workers. At this time, it is still unclear how all nine justices will vote.