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Rays sign on to SCOTUS brief backing LGBTQ rights

The team, which also owns the Rowdies, joins major corporations supporting a ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays joined more than 200 major American corporations signing on to an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting workplace rights for the LGBTQ community.

The landmark brief calls for the court to rule that current federal civil rights law bans job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. A coalition of five human rights groups submitted the brief this week ahead of oral arguments the justices will hear on Oct. 8 regarding three cases involving the issue.

Proponents argue that the current Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace, at schools, in healthcare and housing on the basis of race, religion and sex, should be interpreted to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Rays, who also own the Rowdies, joined a list of companies in support of the brief that includes Amazon, American Airlines, Bank of America, Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola, Domino’s Pizza, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Nike, Starbucks, Viacom, the Walt Disney Co. and Xerox. Their inclusion, however, stands out because only one other sports team signed the brief: the San Francisco Giants.

“Signing the brief was not only the right thing to do, but is also best for our business,” said Brian Auld, Rays president and Rowdies vice chair. “We encourage other sports teams and organizations to support this protection for fans, employees and their families.”

The brief was first presented to the Rays and Rowdies by Athlete Ally, a non-profit organization working to end homophobia and transphobia in sport. The coalition of civil rights organizations also included the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, Out Leadership, Out and Equal and Freedom for All Americans.

“At this critical moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality, these leading businesses are sending a clear message to the Supreme Court that LGBTQ people should, like their fellow Americans, continue to be protected from discrimination,” said Jay Brown, senior vice president for programs, research and training for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Jay Brown.

“With so much progress on the line, we are grateful that so many major American companies are standing up for the rights and dignity of their LGBTQ employees, family members and customers.”

The question now is whether the Supreme Court will follow suit, given its conservative majority strengthened by President Donald Trump's appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The three cases are the court's first on LGBTQ rights since the retirement last year of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored landmark gay rights opinions.

The Obama administration had supported treating LGBTQ discrimination claims as sex discrimination, but the Trump administration has changed course. The Trump Justice Department has argued that the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not intended to provide protections to gay or transgender workers.

The companies signing the brief represent more than 7 million employees and $5 trillion in annual revenue, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Times wires were used in this report. Contact Ernest Hooper at Follow @hoop4you.