It may soon be illegal to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation. On Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled en banc that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts covers sexual orientation. The ruling reads, “Sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one’s sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted…making it impossible for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account.” The case involved a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who, in response to a female customer expressing discomfort with being strapped to him, said he was “100 percent gay.” The customer’s boyfriend reported Zarda and he was later fired by his employer, Altitude Express. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission aligns with the court’s interpretation of Title VII, while the Trump Justice Department is in opposition.
While tech companies and developers have increased their focus on accessibility, they may be going about it the wrong way. Members of the disabled community have expressed discomfort with how “even inclusive technology is still often guided by the belief that disability must be cured,” and that some technological advances turn disabled people into a monolithic group regardless of their individual needs. For example, web browsers often redirect people using screen readers to “limited functionalities specifically designed for blind users,” without taking into account their consent or desires. Accessibility educator Chauncey Fleet emphasizes the importance of care over cure, in which care reduces the power imbalance between non-disabled and disabled people and gives disabled people the ability to “design technology for themselves [because] their everyday needs and imagination need to be at the forefront of design, not an afterthought in the name of benevolent inclusion that can render people unable to participate in the society.”
Stephanie Golden reflects on her long career as a copyeditor and the moments of hysteria and fear that occurred when new and more inclusive language was proposed over the years. She remembers the difficulty of insisting on “he or she” or “his or her” instead of the generic “he” or “him” in the sixties—and then there was the drama of “Ms.” versus “Miss” in the seventies. She says that each time, it felt like the end of the world, but people eventually got over it and started using the new language. Today, she sees this happening with the singular “they.” She quotes Davey Shlasko: “The rule against using singular they is enforced neither because it preserves some consistent, objective grammatical standard, nor because it serves our communication needs. It is enforced because enforcing language norms is a way of enforcing power structures.” While she admits the singular “they” still sometimes makes her inner grammar nerd wince, she knows it’s worth it because of the impact it will have on people who don’t identify as either “he” or “she.”