Hero doesn’t feel an apt enough description for Aimee Stephens, whose tireless advocacy on behalf of trans people made her the first trans woman to ever have her case heard before the Supreme Court. The Detroit News reports that Stephens died at home Tuesday, at 59, while waiting for a decision in the landmark case.
Last year, Stephens told the Detroit News: “I believe in what I’m doing. I’ve stood up for myself to make sure that it happens. That’s what keeps me going.” Her fight began in in 2013, when Stephens was fired as an embalmer and director at a funeral home for stating her intentions to transition amongst her colleagues. As the Detroit News reports, she had been out for years prior to informing her boss about her decision, but was fired regardless, and lost her healthcare as a result.
The Equal Opportunity Commission then sued her former workplace, Harris Homes, on Stephens’s behalf, with the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Stephens, citing that Title VII’s prohibiting of discrimination on the basis of sex extends to trans people. The owner of Harris Homes, Thomas Rost, appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments for the case in October 2019. The court’s decision will undoubtedly change the scope of protections for trans people, whether the court rules in Stephens’s favor or against it. She was awaiting that decision, with family, when she died in the care of hospice Tuesday.
A GoFundMe for Stephens’s end-of-life expenses, and for the funeral costs her wife Donna will now have to shoulder, reads, “Sadly it appears that Aimee will never see the result of her valiant and difficult fight for transgender rights.” In an update posted on May 9, organizer John Pedit wrote:
We are very thankful for everyone’s generosity and expressions of support and love. Aimee continues in hospice. She has moments of clarity. She is thankful and gets peace from the comments that have been shared.
In a statement Monday, Donna Stephens wrote: “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.” Alongside Donna, countless trans women like me will mourn the loss of Stephens’s advocacy in our community. Every day we lose another elder, and it is our job to continue the fights they started for us.