Trans rights activist and plaintiff in the federal lawsuit G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, Aimee Stephens, has passed away at age 59. Stephens reportedly died of complications related to kidney failure and was placed in hospice care late last month.
Stephens first made headlines when she filed a lawsuit against her former employer for firing her because of her gender identity. Her case, along with two other LGBTQ lawsuits regarding workplace discrimination, has risen all the way to the supreme court.
The outcome of the cases will determine whether sexual orientation and gender identity should be protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which bars employment discrimination based on characteristics like national origin, race, color, religion, and sex. Supreme court justices have yet to make a decision, but a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would set a landmark legal precedent for LGBTQ rights.
In 2013, Stephens came out to her employer, G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Detroit, as transgender. After six years of working there, she was fired on the spot. Her employer offered her three months severance pay in hopes that she wouldn’t sue, but she turned the offer down.
“I think [my boss] thought I would take the money and disappear,” she remembered. “I guess he’s found out by this point that I’m not that type of person. I’m going to fight for what I believe in.”
Sadly, Stephens won’t get to see the outcome of her historic, legal battle. The activist is survived by her wife Donna Stephens, who issued a statement thanking Aimee’s supporters for their “kindness, generosity, and keeping my best friend and soul mate in your thoughts and prayers.”
In a media statement, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) legal director Shannon Minter paid tribute to Aimee and her legacy:
It is heartbreaking that Aimee Stephens has passed away before the resolution of her historic case, which is the culmination of decades of federal case law holding that Title VII protects transgender workers. No matter how her case is resolved, Aimee will be remembered as a central figure who helped to humanize transgender people and to highlight the discrimination faced by many transgender workers. Aimee’s career was devoted to serving others and to living out her faith, which was an essential part of her identity. Like so many other transgender people, I am grateful for Aimee’s courage and willingness to put herself on the line to stand up for the dignity and equality of all people.
Photo courtesy of Facebook.