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Separating Myths from Facts: Harris Funeral Homes at the Emmys

By Maureen Collins posted on:
September 24, 2019

Did you catch the Emmys Sunday night? Not many people did.

It was the lowest-rated Emmys in history with only 6.9 million viewers. But if you were watching the annual television awards show, you may have seen Netflix star Laverne Cox and a date, an ACLU attorney.

Cox, who identifies as transgender, used the Emmys as a platform to draw attention to an upcoming Supreme Court case: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The TV performer carried a rainbow purse with the words “Oct. 8,” “Title VII,” and “Supreme Court” written on the front. October 8th is the date for oral arguments in the Harris Funeral Homes case, and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will be representing Harris Funeral Homes before the Supreme Court.

In a red carpet interview with E! News, Cox was joined by an ACLU attorney who made some misleading comments, including that the Harris Funeral Homes case is about “mak[ing] it legal to fire workers just because they're LGBTQ, and this is actually going to transform the lives of LGBTQ people," and that a ruling for Harris will allow employers to use stereotypes to punish even those “who are not LGBTQ.” The attorney also noted that the case would impact women.

Let’s break down these statements and separate the facts from the myths.


Claim 1: The Harris Funeral Homes case is about LGBTQ rights.

This is false. There is just one thing the Supreme Court will decide on in the Harris Funeral Homes case, and it’s written on the front of Cox’s purse: the meaning of “Title VII.”

Title VII is the section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act concerning employment discrimination. Specifically, it bars employers from discriminating against employees based on their “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The question in Harris Funeral Homes is whether an unelected federal agency can redefine “sex” to mean “gender identity” in a law written by Congress. If it can, that has negative consequences for all Americans. After all, everyone should be able to rely on what the law says, not on what unelected government officials would like it to mean.


Claim 2: The Harris Funeral Homes case could make it legal to fire people based on their identity.

To address this claim, we need look no further than the facts of the case.

Tom Rost owns and operates Harris Funeral Homes. Tom instituted a sex-specific, professional dress code for his employees to ensure that the grieving families the funeral home serves can focus on the grieving process and not the funeral home or its employees. Tom was acting in accord with federal law, which allows businesses to differentiate between men and women in their dress codes.

In 2013, Tom received a letter from a male funeral director who had worked at the funeral home for almost six years and agreed to and had abided by the dress code since the time of hire. The letter informed Tom that the employee intended to begin dressing and presenting as a woman when interacting with grieving families at work. After considering the needs of the funeral director, his other employees, and the families Harris Funeral Homes serves, Tom could not agree to the funeral director’s plan.

That funeral director filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued Tom and Harris Funeral Homes for sex discrimination under Title VII. To justify this, the EEOC redefined “sex” in Title VII to mean “gender identity.” And even though the federal government has since reversed course, the ACLU continues to push this case forward and seek a decision that will effectively redefine "sex" in federal law.

But Tom was simply acting consistently with existing law by implementing a sex-specific dress code. And an unelected federal agency does not have the power to change the law.


Claim 3: A ruling for Harris will mean that employers can use sex-based stereotypes against employees

This is categorically false and downright silly. If the funeral home prevails, the law will continue to prohibit employers from using stereotypes to favor men over women (or vice versa), just as it has for many decades.


Claim 4: Cox stated to E! News that the Supreme Court’s decision in this case "has implications for women.”

This is true. The outcome of the Harris Funeral Homes case will have huge implications for women—but probably not in the way Cox thinks.

If the Supreme Court allows the federal government to redefine “sex” to mean “gender identity” under Title VII, it will undermine nearly 50 years of advances in women’s rights.

It would threaten women’s opportunities in athletics—men identifying as female will replace women on female athletic teams and on award podiums. This is already happening in Connecticut, where two boys identifying as girls have won 15 state track-and-field titles that nine different girls used to hold. It would also jeopardize the bodily privacy rights of women by forcing organizations to open women’s shelters, locker rooms, restrooms, and showers to men who identify as women. This is already happening in Anchorage, Alaska, where a city commission tried to force a shelter to allow a man who identified as a woman to sleep in a common room, mere feet away from women who have been raped, trafficked, and abused.

The bottom line is that every American—including those who identify as LGBT such as Cox—should be able to rely on what the law says. Redefining “sex” to mean “gender identity” would create chaos and unfair circumstances for women and girls. That’s what this case is truly about.

To learn more about Title VII and the Harris Funeral Homes case, watch this video featuring ADF attorney John Bursch.


Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins

Web Writer

Maureen has a passion for writing and her work has appeared on The Federalist.

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