Aimee Stephens, the first transgender person whose civil rights case was heard by the Supreme Court, has reportedly died on Tuesday. After struggling with health problems, Stephens passed away at age 59 before SCOTUS ruled on the landmark LGBTQ+ case. According to a GoFundMe page set up by her family last week, Stephens had been struggling with kidney disease for several years. The fundraiser was set up to raise money for end-of-life costs, as well as lost income from being fired from her job in 2013.
In her final days, Stephens was surrounded by her family who stood with her until the very end — including her wife Donna Stephens, and daughter, Elizabeth who she is survived by, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Stephens died in hospice care of the same health complications explained in the GoFundMe page, which has now raised over $22,000.
During her life, Stephens rose to prominence after being fired for coming out as transgender to her employer, Harris Funeral Home, in 2013. Ultimately, Stephens fought back by suing the funeral home on Title VII grounds, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex. Stephens' case was escalated past Detroit District court on the argument that Title VII should include gender identity in addition to sex.
Her case — R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — joined other LGBTQ employment rights cases headed up by the ACLU and made its way to the SCOTUS floor in October 2019. At the time of her death, the Supreme Court did not yet rule on the case, though a decision is expected soon.
Despite her untimely death, Stephens' case making it to the Supreme Court was a landmark moment for the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically for Trans rights.
“Aimee did not set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one, and our country owes her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people and her dedication to our transgender community,” Chase Strangio, one of Stephens’ legal representatives from the ACLU, said in a statement.
"Being a part of Aimee’s team at the Supreme Court has been one of the proudest moments of my life because of the amazing person behind the case. As a member of her legal team, I am deeply sad for this loss. As a transgender person and an advocate, I am filled with both grief and rage that we have lost an elder far too soon," Strangio said.
Strangio was among a number of prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community to commemorate Stephens for her strength and journey that took her into the Supreme Court. "Aimee Stephens was a trailblazer whose story and fight have already had historic implications on LGBTQ equality, particularly transgender equality and acceptance," Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of GLAAD, wrote on Twitter.
As Stephens' work continues to trail blaze through the highest courts in America, she is celebrated and commemorated for the power she embodied. "As we, and millions, carry her work for justice forward, may she rest in power and continue to guide us on this path," Strangio said.