Rachel Tudor was a professor of English at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant (not far from my old stomping grounds of Sherman/Denison, TX!). She was denied tenure, and faced other discriminatory behavior, because she is transgender. She filed a Title VII suit under the Civil Rights Act in 2010, and in 2014, the Obama-era Justice Department sued as well, asserting that Title VII covers transgender individuals.
The Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have made it clear that they don’t agree. Earlier this year, they settled and withdrew, but Ms. Tudor’s part of the suit continued, and earlier this week, she was awarded over $1.1 million by a jury. It’s a pity this took 7 years to prosecute, but I’m very pleased at the results.
There’s a little bit of a “who’d-a thunk” moment here–I would expect wins like this on the coasts, but Oklahoma? That’s eyebrow-raising for me, and in a very good way. Oklahoma is in the 10th Federal Circuit, which has in the past ruled in support of transgender people, where my home state of Texas is in the 5th Circuit, which has proven itself to be a fairly-nasty bunch of folks for LGBT people, but this is very encouraging news.
It’s not clear whether Oklahoma will appeal this–they have a right to, but may not choose to do so. Federal Civil Rights Act cases like this one are important, and it’s kind of useful when the Circuits weigh in on them–because once two Circuits disagree, that’s when the Supreme Court must act. That’s their biggest purpose, in many ways: to be the court of final ruling, when the lower courts cannot agree.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said, in a 1964 speech, echoing the words from more than a hundred years before of abolitionist Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, who said in an 1853 book of his sermons,
Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.
It’s going to be a long, long time before transgender people have full equality under the law; it may not happen in my lifetime. But even when the Trump administration and Republican legislatures all over the country try to make our lives miserable, we still win a big one from time to time. We’re making progress, and it gives me hope.