Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman whose historic lawsuit resulted in the Supreme Court’s landmark decision that a federal civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender workers, didn’t live to see the day she fought for.
Stephens died last month at 59 after suffering from complications related to kidney disease.
She worked as a funeral director for nearly six years at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Garden City, Michigan, and was fired in 2013 after courageously writing a letter to her coworkers about her decision to have gender reassignment surgery.
“I have known many of you for some time now,” Stephens wrote at the time.
“The first step I must take is to live and work full-time as a woman,” Stephens said. “I will return to work as my true self,” she said, adding, “In appropriate business attire.”
Not long after, she was fired. Thomas Rost, her boss at the time, believed that “coming to work dressed as a woman was not going to be acceptable.”
In an interview last year, Stephens said “the idea of going to the Supreme Court was beyond my wildest dreams.”
Donna Stephens, Aimee’s wife, on Monday remembered her as a “leader” and said the ruling honor’s her legacy.
“My wife Aimee was my soulmate. We were married for 20 years. For the last seven years of Aimee’s life, she rose as a leader who fought against discrimination against transgender people, starting when she was fired for coming out as a woman, despite her recent promotion at the time,” Donna said.
“I am grateful for this victory to honor the legacy of Aimee, and to ensure people are treated fairly regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she added.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday, the ACLU praised the court’s decision as “a huge victory for LGBTQ equality.” The organization also shared a statement by Stephens prior to her death in the possibility the court ruled in her favor.
“Firing me because I’m transgender was discrimination, plain and simple, and I am glad the court recognized that what happened to me is wrong and illegal,” Stephens said. “I am thankful that the court said my transgender siblings and I have a place in our laws – it made me feel safer and more included in society.”
Stephens also spoke to CNN about the pain of hiding her true self, emotionally recalling a fall night in 2012 when she pointed a gun toward her chest.
“I stood there with it pressed into my chest for nearly an hour,” she tearfully said in 2019. “But I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. I realized I liked me too much.”
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue and Devan Cole contributed to this report.