LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — A federal ruling that prohibits workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ community comes following decades of legal challenges in the U.S.
The 6-3 decision creates a heightened sense of validation for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Andrea Zekis, who identifies as transgender, serves as interim director of Lucie's Place.
"This gives me the opportunity to say yes I have a right to exist in Arkansas. I have a right to be able to kind of pursue my dreams just like anybody else," Zekis said.
Lucie's Haven serves as a safe-haven for homeless youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
The Little Rock-based non-profit organization provides employment and housing support.
In 2019, Lucie's Place transitional living program assisted 19 young adults.
"Being who you are shouldn't get in the way of getting that employment. My hope is for the young people who come here to Lucie's place to get what they need, they're able to make it the support to have employment and then they're able to have successful lives," Zekis said.
Arkansas is one of more than 20 states without sweeping legal protections for the LGBTQ community. The existing legal defense applies to youth.
"The Anti-Bullying law which applies to elementary and secondary schools, does protect on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation," said John DiPippa, law professor at the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law.
Governor Asa Hutchinson provided an emailed statement in response to the Supreme Court ruling, which says, “I will continue to review the decision but this case broadens employee protections and clarifies the definition of sex under Title 7. We will need to do a further review as to whether this opinion makes legislative changes necessary in Arkansas," Hutchinson said.
Among the prominent criticisms expressed by dissenting justices and organizations deal with the Supreme Court majority mending the Title 7 Civil Rights Act without congressional oversight.
While religious protection is explicitly mentioned in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it doesn't rule out the possibility for future litigation in contrast with the afforded protections for LGBTQ employees.
"When those future religious question cases come, it's going to be down to what does it mean to designate somebody who is part of your ministry, is it enough to say we don't like who they are or do you have to have some way to show that they're actually engaging in ministerial tasks," DiPippa said.
" I could see a religious school arguing that teachers are engaged in a religious ministry, their education and therefore they have a right to choose people based on qualities that they think are crucial," he said.
Jerry Cox, president and founder of the Arkansas Family Council opposes the Supreme Court's ruling, calling it judicial activism.
Cox noted in an email, "It should concern everyone. The U.S. Supreme Court has no business redefining words like ‘sex’ in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Doing so, applies the law in a way that Congress never intended. Congress wrote the act and Congress should be the ones to define words like sex, religion, or race.”