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After the tragic death of trans pioneer Aimee Stephens, her widow is taking over historic court battle

Nick Duffy May 27, 2020
Transgender activist Aimee Stephens,with her wife behind, sits in her wheelchair outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, October 8, 2019

Transgender activist Aimee Stephens, with her wife Donna Stephens behind, sits in her wheelchair outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, October 8, 2019 (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Aimee Stephens’ historic Supreme Court battle for trans rights will continue after her tragic death, with her widow taking over the case ahead of an expected ruling.

Stephens, who died on May 12 from kidney disease, was the lead plaintiff in a landmark case currently before the US Supreme Court, which will establish whether transgender people are entitled to protection from discrimination in the workplace based on existing sex-based civil rights laws.

After the death of the trans rights pioneer, her widow Donna Stephens has taken over in the case against her spouse’s former employer, RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes Inc. The court granted a motion for her to substitute in the case on Tuesday (May 26).

The Michigan funeral home, where Stephens had worked for six years, sacked her just weeks after she came out as transgender — and maintains that it acted legally in doing so.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last year and is due to announce its ruling soon, making her death all the more tragic.

Aimee Stephens’ widow thanks supporters.

In a previous statement, Donna Stephens said: “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your kindness, generosity, and keeping my best friend and soulmate in your thoughts and prayers.

“Aimee is an inspiration. She has given so many hope for the future of equality for LGBTQ people in our country, and she has rewritten history. The outpouring of love and support is our strength and inspiration now.”

Aimee Stephens will be substituted by her wife Donna Stephens
Aimee Stephens will be substituted by her wife Donna Stephens. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Out)

Chase Strangio of the ACLU said: “When Aimee decided to fight back after she was fired for being transgender, she just wanted it to be acknowledged that what happened to her was wrong.

“Being a part of Aimee’s team at the Supreme Court has been one of the proudest moments of my life because of the amazing person behind the case. As a member of her legal team, I am deeply sad for this loss. As a transgender person and an advocate, I am filled with both grief and rage that we have lost an elder far too soon.

“As we, and millions, carry her work for justice forward, may she rest in power and continue to guide us on this path.”

Landmark Supreme Court ruling will decide on protections for all LGBT+ people

The case is being heard together with two others relating to gay employees who faced similar discrimination at work because of their sexual orientation.

A second respondent, Donald Zarda — who was fired from his job as a skydiving instructor because he is gay — tragically died in 2014.

However, the Trump administration filed amicus briefs arguing that the employers did nothing wrong.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled favourably on LGBT+ rights issues in the past, there are fears that the majority on the issue may have been lost due to the appointment of two ultra-conservative justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

More: Aimee Stephens, donald zarda, LGBT, supreme court

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