Reflecting on 54 Years of the Civil Rights Act – and How It’s Expanded Protections for LGBTQ Americans

By Adam Polaski • July 2, 2018 • 2:41 pm

On July 2, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, landmark legislation that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in employment, education and housing; as well as banned racial segregation in public accommodations (including schools, public transportation hotels, restaurants, and more.

Fifty-four years later, as we celebrate this historic legislation that has empowered millions of Americans and strengthened the possibility of a more fair and equal country for people of all races and religions, we also reflect on how the Civil Rights Act has helped to expand protections for LGBTQ Americans.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employment discrimination based on “sex,” and for decades, legal scholars and advocates have been making the case that these protections from discrimination based on sex also extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. After all, targeting someone because they love a person of the same sex or because they transitioned genders is inherently discriminating against them because of their sex.

In recent years, legal consensus has grown, with judges, courts, and federal agencies increasingly coming to the conclusion that federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people. Legal advocates are aiming toward a clear goal – that courts that “sex discrimination” encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This vital work in the courts, alongside the work of advocates charging toward change in state legislative chambers and in the United States Congress, will converge and build momentum toward federal non-discrimination laws ensuring that all Americans are explicitly protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Since 2015 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted Title VII’s language banning sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The EEOC writes on its website, “Sex discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex. Discrimination against an individual because of gender identity, including transgender status, or because of sexual orientation is discrimination because of sex in violation of Title VII.”

Nearly all of the nation’s 13 federal appellate courts have considered whether sex discrimination amounts to discrimination based on LGBTQ identity – and in recent years several of these appellate courts have issued landmark decisions in favor of LGBTQ non-discrimination. Two federal appellate courts – the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 2nd Circuit – have concluded that federal law prohibiting sex discrimination also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. And three federal appellate courts (6th Circuit and 11th Circuit rulings in favor of transgender workers under Title VII, and a 7th Circuit ruling in favor of transgender students under Title IX) have explicitly ruled that federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Positive case law also exists in favor of transgender people in the 1st Circuit8th Circuit, and 9th Circuit.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most standout, important laws in American history – and it’s clear that it was designed to protect Americans from discrimination, whether the discrimination is based on a person’s skin color, gender, or faith. Now, as discrimination persists against many minority groups, Freedom for All Americans shines the spotlight on the rampant discrimination against people based on their LGBTQ identity. It’s time for courts to continue pushing forward and coming to the understand that the Civil Rights Act also protects LGBTQ people, who face discrimination based on sex.

Learn more about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And learn more about LGBTQ-related litigation pending in courts across the country. 


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