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Remembering Aimee Stephens, the Transgender Woman Behind Supreme Court Ruling

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Image credit: ACLU

Aimee Stephens was fired from her job at Harris Funeral Home in Livonia in 2013 after telling her employer she had transitioned. She died earlier this year at 59, prior to the decision of her landmark Supreme Court case.

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that gay, lesbian and transgender employees cannot be fired solely based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. A majority of justices found that LGBTQ+ workers are protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s a milestone for the movement. But one of the plaintiffs from Metro Detroit didn’t live to see the ruling.

I chose to live. I realized that I liked me too much. I had too much to live for.” — Aimee Stephens, plaintiff

Aimee Stephens is a transgender woman who died earlier this year at the age of 59. She was fired from her job at Harris Funeral Home in Livonia in 2013, after telling her employer she had transitioned.

Stephens was born in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1960, where she earned a degree in mortuary science and learned to prepare bodies for viewing. She also studied religion and once had plans to become a Baptist minister. 

She worked nearly 20 years in funeral services and eventually moved to Redford, Mich., married and had a daughter, Elizabeth. There, she became a director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, a family-run business in suburban Detroit.

While she says she was aware of her gender identity as early as age 5, Stephens presented as male for most of her life. When she came out as a transgender woman to family 10 years ago, she did so in stages.

I was living as a woman at home and in public and only presented as male at work, and I got to the point that I couldn’t keep living two separate lives,” Stephens said last year on Detroit Today.

She was so distraught she even contemplated suicide. But “instead, I chose to live. I realized that I liked me too much, and I had too much to live for.”

Click on the player above to hear WDET’s Eli Newman remember Aimee Stephens, her life and the legacy she did not live to witness.

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Eli Newman, Reporter/Producer

Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

eli.newman@wdet.org Follow @other_eli

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