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AWN mourns death of Aimee Stephens, first trans woman to bring civil rights case to Supreme Court

AWN is deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of Aimee Stephens, a trans woman and advocate in Michigan who catapulted to national attention over the last few years when her employment discrimination case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Like many trans people, and particularly transfeminine people, Aimee faced clear and open hostility from her employer when she decided to come out as trans – despite working as a funeral director for over twenty years, the funeral home fired her only two weeks after she came out in 2013. Aimee chose to fight for her right to live authentically and openly as herself, without fear of repercussions or retaliation. She filed a civil rights complaint that first went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and ultimately landed before the Supreme Court, where oral arguments took place just this past October.

As many of AWN’s own board members, staff, and volunteers – many of whom are also trans – know from personal experience, losing a job is not only emotionally devastating, but often economically ruinous, especially for multiply marginalized people. Aimee became disabled from chronic illness, and losing her job meant losing her health insurance. While no one can predict how long she might have lived had she had continuous access to high-quality, respectful health care, Aimee would undoubtedly have been much more likely to be with us today, waiting for the Supreme Court to make its decision in her historic case, had she not had to rely on her employer for access to health care. She was a force to be reckoned with, an inspiration for many younger trans women and other trans people, and a beloved wife to her wife Donna.

Trans people face marginalization and oppression throughout their lives, beginning in childhood and often continuing even past death though misgendering, deadnaming, and other acts of erasure and dehumanization. Trans women in particular, especially Black and Brown trans women, have always suffered the particular harms of transmisogynistic hate. Much like many other prominent trans advocates, Aimee did not set out to become a trans rights advocate when she first came out, but she nonetheless chose to do so because she believed in a future where no other trans person would have to suffer the same indignities, discrimination, and hostility that she did – or worse. Aimee was a powerful advocate, but more importantly, she was a valued member of our communities, and one who deserved infinitely better in her life. AWN is deeply grateful to Aimee for her leadership and persistence, and offers our grief alongside the many trans people in our community for this enormous loss.

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