Transgender woman in Supreme Court case 'happy being me'
FERNDALE, Michigan (AP) — Aimee Stephens lost her job at a suburban Detroit funeral home and she could lose her Supreme Court case over discrimination against transgender people. Amid her legal fight, her health is failing.
But seven years after Stephens thought seriously of suicide and six years after she announced that she would henceforth be known as Aimee instead of Anthony, she has something no one can take away.
"I'm happy being me," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's taken a long time."
The Supreme Court will hear Stephens' case Oct. 8 over whether federal civil rights law that bars job discrimination on the basis of sex protects transgender people. Other arguments that day deal with whether the same law covers sexual orientation.
The cases are the first involving LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's gay-rights champion and decisive vote on those issues. They probably won't be decided before spring, during the 2020 presidential campaign.
The 58-year-old Stephens plans to attend the arguments despite dialysis treatments three times a week to deal with kidney failure and breathing problems that require further treatment. She used a walker the day she spoke to AP at an LGBT support center in the Ferndale suburb north of Detroit.
"I felt what they did to me wasn't right. In fact, it was downright wrong," Stephens said, her North Carolina roots evident in her speech. "But I also realized it wasn't just me, that there were others in the world facing the same tune."
On the other side of the case is the R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, whose owner worries that a ruling for Stephens also would prohibit sex-specific sleeping facilities in shelters, as well as showers, restrooms and locker rooms. Congress can change the law to make explicit protections for LGBT people if it wishes, owner Thomas Rost says in court papers.
More than half the states do not prohibit discrimination in employment because of gender identity or sexual orientation, despite the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling that made same-sex marriage legal across the United States. In Michigan, the state's civil rights commission last year decided to interpret existing state law to protect LGBT people from workplace bias. But that wouldn't affect Stephens, who was fired in 2013.
There's no dispute over the sequence of events that led to the Supreme Court case. Stephens was once a Baptist minister in North Carolina and she said she always liked "comforting people in need." She spent nearly six years as a licensed funeral home director and embalmer at the company's Garden City, Michigan, location. Stephens, then known as Anthony Stephens, came to work every day in a dark suit, white shirt and tie.
At the end of July 2013, Stephens met with Rost in the home's chapel and handed him a letter in which Stephens revealed she had struggled with gender most of her life and had, at long last, "decided to become the person that my mind already is." Stephens wrote, "As distressing as this is sure to be to my friends and some of my family, I need to do this for myself and for my own peace of mind and to end the agony in my soul."
Following a vacation, Stephens said she would report to work wearing a conservative skirt suit or dress that Rost required for women who worked at his three funeral homes.