Many students feel they have to hide their sexuality in order to be protected against workplace discrimination. Graphic by Riley Herendeen.


Deciding whether to move back home is a common struggle for Chapman University graduates, but that decision is about to get much more complicated.

President Donald Trump recently attempted to influence two Supreme Court civil rights cases, both which look at the legality of firing employees for being gay. The decision could threaten the rights of LGBTQ students who do not live in California.

“Why would I want to live and work in a state that could fire me at any time because of who I am?” said Zach Davis, a junior political science major.

Davis avoided talking about his dating life to his coworkers during his time in high school in Utah. Utah is 62% Mormon and a majority of its voters affiliate as Republican, which made Davis feel like he had to hide his sexuality while at work.

Despite Utah’s nondiscrimination law, Davis felt his employment was not safe.

“I knew they would find a way to fire me because they don’t want a gay employee representing their company,” Davis said. “I would never post a picture of me and my boyfriend because I know there would be consequences.”

All across the country, many people like Zach live in fear of workplace discrimination due to their sexuality or gender expression. Students are protected under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) at Chapman, but if the Trump administration gets its way, they could be legally fired for their sexuality or gender expression in their home states.

In August, the Department of Justice submitted two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court, urging them to rule that “transgender persons” and other members of the LGBTQ community are not protected under Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1994. According to Title VII, no employer can discriminate on the basis of sex. However, the Trump administration argues that “sex” is not equivalent to gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court will decide if it is legal to discriminate against employees because of their sexuality in the spring of 2020. Photo by Gracie Fleischman. 

John Compton, the chair of the political science department, says he is skeptical that the court will rule in favor of discrimination.

“The question is, how will the two Trump appointees vote after Justice Kennedy left?” Compton said. “It seems unlikely that Justice Kavanaugh and Gorsuch will vote with the liberal judges.”

Alice Premeau, a junior graphic design major, says she does not plan on returning to her hometown of Chandler, Arizona because she fears her sexuality could make it difficult to find a job.

“Arizona is a very ‘red’ state and some of my work that is LGBTQ-centered would make it very hard to get hired,” Premeau said. “I always make sure to delete anything that might make me seem like a lesbian on social media before I apply for a job there.”

She worries that even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of protecting LGBTQ employees, it will not be enough.

“Companies can still find ways around these laws, because it can be almost impossible to prove that you were fired or never hired in the first place because of your sexuality,” said Premeau.

Some Chapman students and faculty say they feel protected against employment-based discrimination due to the university’s non-discrimination policy and equal employment opportunity statement.

Ian Barnard says Chapman has a long history of hiring LGBTQ professors. As the head of the LGBTQ studies minor at Chapman, Barnard says they feel welcome on campus and have never felt their employment would be threatened because of their sexuality.

“I feel really lucky that I live in California which is much more protective of people’s basic human rights than some of the other states,” Barnard said.

The Supreme Court began proceedings on Oct. 4, but a decision will not be made until the spring. If they rule in favor of the Department of Justice, a federal standard would be set.  This means that nationally, it would be legal for employers to discriminate based on sexuality or gender identity.

Gracie Fleischman
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