The Supreme Court and the Health of LGBTQ People: Why it Matters

By Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD

Nothing contributes more to the higher rates of physical and mental health problems in LGBTQ people than discrimination. Last week, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling asserting that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits firing a person from their job on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. For years, Title VII has prohibited employee discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Just last year, the court heard three cases in which individuals were fired after disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that these firings were illegal because discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity and it is included in Title VII protections. Prior to that ruling, it was legal to fire someone for sexual orientation or gender identity in nearly half of the states in America. 

Laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity improve both the mental and physical health of sexual and gender minority people. In states without legal protections for LGBTQ people, gay men alone are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression relative to those living in states which protected LGBTQ people from discrimination. Discrimination and prejudice impact physical health as well. LGBTQ people living in communities with high levels of prejudice experience increased mortality risk compared to those living in more accepting communities. In fact, gay men in accepting communities live an average of 12 years longer.

This is why both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association urged the court to ban employment discrimination against LGBTQ people. The recent Supreme Court decision means that millions of LGBTQ Americans no longer have to live in fear of losing their job because of who they are or because of who they love. 

Though the Supreme Court’s ruling on Title VII gives us much to celebrate this Pride, there is still much work to be done. Fatal violence disproportionally impacts Black Transwomen. Discrimination and oppression still occur against LGBTQ people everyday. And many people seek to roll back the legal rights of LGBTQ people across the country. As we celebrate Pride and look toward to the future we must remain vigilant and continue to work towards a future where everyone is accepted no matter who they love or who they are. 


Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD is an Instructor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.