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Trans-rights advocate Aimee Stephens dies
2020-05-12

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Aimee Stephens—the Michigan transgender funeral home worker whose firing led to a U.S. Supreme Court case that could decide the employment rights of millions of transgender and gender-nonconforming people—has died at age 59.

According to NBC News, Stephens had kidney disease for several years and needed lengthy dialysis treatments. According to a GoFundMe for her end-of-life costs, being fired from her job in 2013 ( after coming out as transgender ) contributed to "several years of lost income" that her family has been unable to regain.

The Supreme Court is set to issue its ruling in Harris Funeral v. EEOC/Stephens v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home soon. According to an article Windy City Times ran, the case asks if Title VII's "because … of sex" language covers discrimination because of gender identity and whether another federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ( RFRA ) provides an exemption from Title VII if the employer claims the discrimination is based on religious beliefs.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project and a member of Aimee Stephens' legal team, said in a statement, "Aimee did not set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one, and our country owes her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people and her dedication to our transgender community.

"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."

Stephen's wife, Donna, is currently not conducting interviews and issued the following statement:

"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."

In a separate press release, PFLAG National Executive Director Brian K. Bond said, "Aimee Stephens just wanted to continue to do the job she was hired to do, that she was good at, and that she was prepared to continue while living as her true gender. It is with heavy hearts that we at PFLAG mourn Aimee's passing. Her fight will continue as we strive for equality for all, inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity."

"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," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter in another statement. "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."

Stephens is survived by Donna and a daughter, Elizabeth.

A GoFundMe page for Aimee's end-of-life costs is at www.gofundme.com/f/aimee-stephens-endof-life-costs.


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