Eduardo Juarez had just arrived in New York City from San Antonio, Texas to attend a conference on Transgender Advocacy in the context of Disability Rights Law when I had the opportunity to interview him for this spotlight. This detail alone is illustrative of precisely why Mr. Juarez is one of SOGI’s 2018 Stonewall Award recipients. It was immediately apparent to me that this is not just an award for what he has contributed up to now, it is an award for the ongoing activist and leader that Mr. Juarez is. He presently serves as the Supervisory Trial Attorney with the San Antonio Field Office of the EEOC.
JC: Tell us about your journey and how you got be where you are.
EJ: Recently I was at my 30 year Notre Dame alumni reunion, and attended an LGBT panel of alums from various generations, the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s (when I went), up to the present. It was stark hearing how much things have improved for LGBT students. Suffice it to say, in the 80’s it was not good, in my opinion. I was still relatively closeted, even in law school. In terms of LGBT advocacy, it wasn’t until the 90’s when I was working at the Public Defender Service in Washington DC, likely due to the public interest nature of that work and having really good colleagues, that I felt comfortable coming out at work.
The first opportunity I had to work directly in the field of LGBT legal advocacy was in 2001 when I returned to San Antonio with the EEOC. There were some early cases, based on the Price Waterhouse case and the gender-stereotyping theory, that found some LGBT discrimination could be covered under Title VII. We had a charge at the EEOC in 2003 that didn’t turn into a lawsuit, but upon investigation we found cause for a transgender woman who had been fired for not meeting gender expectations. At about the same time we were investigating that charge, the 6th Circuit issued its opinion in Smith v. City of Salem. That was one of the first federal ap- pellate opinions that held in favor of a transgender plaintiff under Title VII. It went to the very edge short of holding that transgender discrimination is per se prohibited by Title VII—which is the EEOC’s position as stated in the Macy decision in 2012. So, it was definitely at the EEOC where I began and continue doing LGBT legal advocacy.
JC: What are the most important LGBT legal issues yet to be resolved?
EJ: In the employment context, the Supreme Court will decide—hopefully soon—that the sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII necessarily includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Another important issue deals with the constitutionality of the trans exclusions in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA’s coverage of trans persons. We will be discussing this ADA issue here in New York at this intersectional meeting of legal and community advocates for both the trans community and the disability community, and in particular the Blatt v. Cabela case. The plaintiff in Blatt is transgender, and it’s an employment discrimination case under both Title VII and the ADA. The ADA has explicit exclusions associated with transgender people—it excludes “transsexualism,” “transvetism,” and “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments.” There are at least three different ways that lawyers have argued the exclusions do not apply, and that the ADA should protect trans people with gender dysphoria. For example, the Court in Blatt decided that the trans exclusions in the ADA refer to only the condition of identifying with a different gender, and not to encompass the medical condition of gender dysphoria. The issue in general is the development of getting coverage for trans people under the ADA. The lawyers for Ms. Blatt also constitutionally challenged the trans exclusions because the legislative history shows that the intent was a bare desire to harm transgender people- two Senators in particular wanting to exclude transgender people because they are “immoral.” I’m here to get educated and learn from the lawyers who actually litigated and worked on this case.
JC: There’s New York, then California, how about Texas?
EJ: Based on some polling done by Equality Texas, and my own experiences, I beleive there is l a disconnect in Texas between politicians and citizens or the people. These polls have shown that a majority of Texans, especially among the African-American and Latino communities, in slightly larger majorities, support LGBT civil rights. Locally, however, we have a lot to be proud of. In 2012 San, Antonio passed a Non-Discrimination Ordinance (“NDO”), which is trans-inclusive. San Antonio is an important city nationally. For one, it’s a majority minority city, 63% Latino city. I participated in an organization called CAUSA (Communities Allied for a United San Antonio) and it was a coalition of organizations that pushed to get the NDO passed in San Antonio. I worked alongside different LGBT and civil rights stakeholders like MALDEF, religious organizations, the NAACP and the City Attorneys to get the NDO drafted and passed. We can be very proud of that as a municipal victory.
JC: You are both Latino AND LGBT, your success speaks to a lot of people.
EJ: Being a gay Latino is who I am and this intersectionality provides a lot of opportunities to collaborate and form coalitions. As President of the National LGBT Bar and a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association LGBT Division, I was better able to facilitate collaboration between these two associations including organizing educational events together. Recognizing and seizing on the opportunities that our intersectionality’s provide is very important because there needs to be a coalition in order to get things accomplished. The LGBT community alone is a numerical minority, and our straight allies are a very important part of our coalition to accomplish advancements. There are commonalities and interests, particularly regarding civil rights, shared between ethnic and racial minorities and the LGBT community. When we are able to collaborate, we accomplish many more things.
JC: What has been your proudest accomplishment thus far?
EJ: Although I take pride in my legal work, it has been more my community activism work, in particular with the NDO in San Antonio, that I am proudest. I used my legal knowledge to be more of an community educator. For example, I educated our own LGBT community about things like religious exemptions, and what the language of the NDO meant. And, the community educated me about practicality and common sense. In the final result, it was a fantastic experience to be part of that community movement. Regarding my professional work, it’s always a thrill to win trials, but many of the significant accomplishments are the ones nobody ever hears about. The myriad of cases and charges that get settled before a lawsuit is filed, educating willing employers on LGBT issues, all of these show significant social progress.
JC: Any advice to empower those with difficult experiences?
EJ: The impact of marginalization and discrimination is serious. One thing I came to personally realize is that oftentimes the limits I put on myself were greater than the actual limits society placed on me. I had to break through any internal fears or negative ideas that I couldn’t do something, for example, by taking on leadership roles. My advice, especially to our youth, is to take one step at a time and don’t listen to any kind of internal voices that are expressing any kind of doubt or fear. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
JOSEPH AARON CALDARERA
2L, St. Mary’s University School of Law,
Leadership Scholar, National Security
Fellow SOGI Law Student Division
SOGI Liaison 2017-18
Rice University ‘03