Aimee Stephens Dead, Michigan Woman At Center Of Landmark Transgender Civil Rights Case Dies At Age 59

Stephens was at the center of a high profile case that's still pending in front of the Supreme Court.

Aimee Stephens at the Out100 in 2019.
Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

Stephens was at the center of a high profile case that's still pending in front of the Supreme Court.

Aimee Stephens is dead. The ACLU announced on Twitter Tuesday afternoon that Stephens, who was at the center of a high profile civil rights case in front of the Supreme Court, has died at the age of 59. According to The Detroit News, Stephens had been in hospice care in her home in recent days and passed away alongside her wife, Donna Stephens.

Stephens’ case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last October. She was the first transgender person to have a civil rights complaint heard by the court, according to the ACLU, which represented her.

“Aimee is an inspiration. She has given so many hope for the future of equality for LGBTQ people in our country, and she has rewritten history. The outpouring of love and support is our strength and inspiration now,” Donna said in a statement.


Stephens Claimed That She Was Fired For Being Transgender

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With heavy hearts, we must share the news that Aimee Stephens, whose landmark case was the first case about the civil rights of transgender people to be heard by the Supreme Court, died today at her home in Detroit with her wife, Donna Stephens, at her side. She was 59 When Aimee was fired for being trans, she decided to fight back because she just wanted it to be acknowledged that what happened to her was wrong. Aimee didn't set out to be a hero and a trailblazer, but she is one. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people, and her dedication to the trans community Those who met Aimee know that her power was in her humbleness and sincerity. She has been an inspiration to millions around the world. We at the ACLU mourn with Aimee's wife Donna, their daughter Elizabeth, and all of you who were inspired by Aimee. We will honor her life by fighting onward Thank you, Aimee

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Stephens’ claim before the court was that she had been fired in violation of Title 7 of the federal civil rights law, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex. In its ruling, the court is likely to determine whether Title 7 applies to transgender individuals.

Activists in the transgender community say that their right to earn a living and support their families is at stake in the case.

Stephens was reportedly fired from her job as funeral home director and embalmer at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Garden City in 2013 after she told her boss that she was planning to transition from a man to a woman and was going to begin dressing in woman’s clothing.

At the time, Stephens had been living for years as a transgender woman outside of work but had not yet come out to her colleagues.

Her case began in 2014 when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Harris Homes, which operates three funeral homes in Michigan. Thomas Rost, the owner of Harris Homes, claimed at the time that Stephens’ dress would be a distraction to grieving families. In 2018, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided against Rost, ruling in part that discriminating on the basis of transgender status is “necessarily” discrimination on the basis of sex.


Stephens Grew Up Wanting To Be A Pastor

Stephens was born Anthony Stephens, and she grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Initially, she wanted to be a pastor, but after a year in seminary, she left and decided to begin working in funeral homes in order to comfort families in their most difficult hours.

She married Donna after her first marriage, and Donna supported her through her transition, as did most of her extended family. She worked through the end of 2014 until kidney failure forced her to retire.

In spite of the financial strain she had been under as a result of losing her job, Stephens told The Detroit News in 2019 that she didn’t regret challenging Harris Homes’ decision to fire her. She also said she was optimistic about the Supreme Court ruling, which is expected in July.

“If you’re part of the human race, which we all are, we all deserve the same basic rights. We’re not asking for anything special. We’re just asking to be treated like other people are,” Stephens said at the time.