When Joseph Fons, JD ’19, decided to visit the Supreme Court recently, he had no idea he would become the face of a landmark civil rights employment discrimination ruling.
On Monday morning, June 15, Mr. Fons learned that the Supreme Court had announced its decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, a case involving whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. He was pleasantly surprised that the Court decided in favor of the plaintiffs in a 6-3 ruling.
He had been waiting for this ruling from the Supreme Court, and he felt compelled to visit the Court on that historic day. “As a person who identifies as LGBTQ, where else would I be? This decision means that basically no employer can ever discriminate against me because I am gay,” he said.
What Mr. Fons didn’t anticipate, however, was that he would become “fodder” for the throngs of photographers camped out at the High Court to document the significance of the ruling.
“As soon as I arrived on my bicycle, several photographers saw my pride flag and GW Lambda Law tank top, and they quickly ran across to the US Capitol side of the street to get a photo of me passing by with the Supreme Court building in the background,” he said. The photographs continued after he docked his bicycle and walked to the Court. “I felt like they were waiting for someone like me to mark the occasion,” he noted.
Photographers from Reuters, Getty, and United Press International captured images of Mr. Fons that Monday morning. A few hours later, the images began appearing online. Later that day, they were featured on the evening news. By the following Tuesday morning, Mr. Fons was on the cover of more than 100 US newspapers as well as several international publications and media outlet websites, including Al Jazeera, BBC, Politico, USA Today, Vanity Fair, and even Rolling Stone. He started receiving messages from friends all over the world. It also didn’t hurt that his friend and mentor, Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, helped to circulate the images on the show and through her social media accounts.
"It is an honor and incredibly humbling to be associated with this landmark ruling that has made national and international headlines," commented Mr. Fons. However, he wishes that images of the three plaintiffs at the center of the case were more widely disseminated than his own. “Aimee Stephens, Gerald Bostock, and Donald Zarda are the real heroes here, and it’s very sad that two of them didn’t live long enough to see this important decision handed down,” he said.
He credits his coursework at GW Law for helping to shape his LGBTQ legal advocacy efforts. In particular, he mentions the course Sexuality and the Law with Professor Joan E. Schaffner. Other course favorites include Racism and the Law with Professor Spencer A. Overton, Constitutional Law II with Professor Catherine J. Ross, and Employment and Labor Law with Professor Charles B. Craver. He also describes his involvement with Lambda Law as a “real highlight” of his time at GW Law.
Mr. Fons is currently the law clerk at Coan & Lyons in Washington, DC. Having served as a member of the Obama campaign staff in 2012, he hopes to rejoin Democratic politics with a campaign this summer, maybe even with former Vice President Joe Biden. Ultimately, he would like to work in a Biden White House on policy that champions LGBTQ equality.
“There is so much more work to be done in our nation on behalf of the LGBTQ community, including confronting transphobia, and addressing issues like the lack of federal protection from LGBTQ discrimination in places of public accommodations. It would be so cool to be a part of that policy team in a Biden White House. Plus, if other GW Law alumni can go work for the White House, why can’t I?,” he quipped.