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Washington — Hundreds rallied Tuesday near the U.S. Supreme Court during  arguments in a Michigan case that could decide whether civil rights law shields transgender individuals from workplace discrimination. 

Waving blue and yellow equality flags and “Don’t roll back our rights” signs, many rally-goers turned out to support Aimee Stephens of Metro Detroit, who was fired from her job at a Garden City funeral home in 2013 after informing her boss she was transitioning from male to female. 

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Protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court show support Aimee Stephens of Redford in her employment discrimination case. Melissa Nann Burke, Detroit News Washington Bureau

The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington sang the gospel song "We Shall Overcome." 

Others, including counter protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, stood on the fringes singing and holding signs saying, “Sin and Shame, Not Pride” and “Fear God.”

“LGBTQ people deserve to not be discriminated against in the workplace at all and deserve to be their authentic selves in the workplace,” said Nancy Haugh of Leesburg, Virginia, a graduate student at American University.

“Visibility is a huge thing. Showing the numbers and showing people we exist, it's really important.”

Police had moved the protesters from in front of the High Court steps earlier Tuesday morning to a nearby intersection because of a suspicious bag or package, according to officers on the scene. 

Rally-goers participated in a call and response with a leader with a megaphone:

“No hate ... in my face!”

“What do we want?” she said. 

“Justice!” the crowd roared. 

“When do we want it?”

“Now!” 

At issue in the Michigan case is whether Title 7 of federal civil rights law, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on sex, applies to discrimination against transgender people.

More'I chose to stand up': Mich. transgender woman takes firing fight to High Court

Arguments in another pair of cases Tuesday center on whether the same provision covers discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Shakina Nayfack of New York City called Stephens a "hero" for stepping up and taking the case to the High Court. 

"Something as deeply personal to us as our gender identity shouldn't have to be a political movement, but right now, it is," said Nayfack, an actress. 

"People shouldn't be able to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression, and the government has no place to regulate our gender expression."

Milwaukee native Katherine Fuchs said she doesn't consider herself an activist but felt compelled to show up at the court Tuesday with a sign reading, "We are all Aimee Stephens." 

"I'm outraged that in 2019 this is even a question that the Supreme Court is asking — if employers have a right to discriminate based on sex and gender," said Fuchs, who now lives in Washington. 

"If they can discriminate against Aimee Stephens for being herself, then they can discriminate against anyone else. It's outrageous." 

Julian Boehm, 17, traveled to Washington from Manhattan to participate in the demonstration outside the court, he said. 

“I came out as queer a few years ago, and this case is something that's gonna affect me pretty significantly further in my life. So I thought that it was important for me to be here and fight for my people,” said Julian, a junior in high school.

“The court is essentially deciding whether I'll be able to get any job that I qualify for and whether my sexuality will come into play, as well, which is a really scary concept for me. As I'm looking at colleges and considering my future options, I would prefer not to also consider what fields would accept gay people.”

Stephanie Byers, 56, traveled from Wichita, Kansas, to speak at the rally outside the court as a volunteer for the group GLSEN, which advocates for safe and inclusive K-12 schools for LGBT youth. 

"This decision will have an impact on every person who works in this country as to whether they have a boss who sits down and says, 'You don't meet my standard of masculinity,' or 'You don't meet my standard of femininity, and you will no longer work for me,'" said Byers, a retired high school teacher. 

"And there won't be any repercussions to stand up and say, 'No you're being prejudiced against me.'"  

mburke@detroitnews.com

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