Transgender trailblazer Aimee Stephens, a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, has passed away at the age of 59, The New York Times reports.
The activist and former funeral director died of complications related to kidney failure. She was reportedly placed in hospice care late last month.
Stephens first made headlines after suing her boss for firing her because of her gender identity. Her case has risen all the way to the Supreme Court with two other lawsuits from LGBTQ plaintiffs alleging workplace discrimination: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express v. Zarda.
The trio of cases highlight whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which bars employment discrimination based on characteristics like national origin, race, color, religion, and sex—can be interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity under the “sex” umbrella. Justices have yet to make a decision, but a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could set a landmark legal precedent for federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ workers.
Speaking to NewNowNext last July, Stephens (pictured above) recalled being let go from G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Detroit shortly after coming out to her boss as transgender. She had worked for the company for nearly six years. She was offered three month’s severance pay in hopes she wouldn’t sue.
“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 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.
Rest in power, Aimee.