Reflections on LGBTQ identities in America, Arlene’s Flowers, and healthcare access with Justice Mary Yu of the Washington State Supreme Court
By Estefany Aguillon, Liann Tran, Bezawit Mulugeta, Andranik Gabriyelyan, and Ronaldo Carrada, University of Washington Bothell School of Business
As Justice Mary Yu entered our Zoom class, her captivating smile and confident gaze filled the screen. Amidst the cold and quiet night, her radiant presence exuded warmth, comfort and understanding. While many of us were very nervous to interview a judge, we were pleasantly surprised at her friendly and approachable demeanor.
We opened our talk with a conversation about her career as a former prosecutor, a child of Chinese and Mexican immigrant parents, her drive to become a lawyer, and her compassion for others. This led to a conversation about the intersectionalities of her identities and how that shaped her views on discrimination against historically marginalized groups.
As a Latina, an Asian-American, daughter of immigrants, and member of the LGBTQ community, Yu told us that she has both observed and encountered hate from others outside these communities. Many students in attendance could relate to these observations and experiences, because they share these identities with Yu. However, she reaffirmed to us that “It is important to take our place and say that we belong here.” It was here when we shifted our conversation towards how the legal system can affect the mental well being of those within the LGBTQ communities in America.
What is the biggest issue the LGBTQ and [other] minority communities face in today’s society?
Mental health is so connected to self-image and acceptance, and [you] can be triggered if you are the recipient of negativity or receive hate messages (recently there has been an increase in hate speech). I think many of the people in the LGTBQ community have been feeling a lot of self-doubts, wondering whether [they] have the right to participate in society. […] And this can be really destructive. It really undermines one’s ability to function.
In the future, do you see any laws/rights related to the LGBTQ individuals changing?
One of the biggest [current] battles is healthcare and ensuring the LGBTQ+ community has full access to it, especially the trans community, who are occasionally being denied admission and services.
While transgender individuals are protected under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, no federal law currently exists to provide protections for them in healthcare settings. Many families are afraid to travel to other states, for fear of new laws that discriminate against their transgender family members’ gender affirming medical care.
In preparation for our meeting with Yu, we also read the Arlene Flowers appellate case, which cemented LGBTQ individuals’ rights in Washington state to be free from discrimination by businesses on the basis of their sexual orientation.
This case centered on a Washington State florist who refused to provide wedding services to a Washington same sex couple because of their sexual orientation. The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the same sex couple, but the florist appealed. The case went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court then sent the case back to the Washington State Supreme Court, which ruled again in favor of the same sex couple in 2019, ending the case. Because of the high profile nature of this case and the huge impact this had on local businesses and LGBTQ families in Washington State, this was one of the most important cases of Yu’s judicial career.
Now that the appeals process for Arlene Flowers was exhausted, students were curious about her thoughts on the case looking back.
Is there anything you could change about the Arlene’s Flowers case?
We changed the law. That’s what our court does. [Looking back], I can’t change Arlene’s Flowers other than to say, I wish I could change the heart of the person who really bears that hostility to the LGBTQ community. Who says, “I don’t want to serve you because of my religious belief.” […] I wish I could, but I can’t.
What we [as a court] can do is draw the line at saying, how do we protect the civil rights of everyone? […] Imagine if we even gave in just a little in this whole area. […] How soon would it be that then you would have Black people who could not stay in a particular hotel? Where Asians could not eat at this restaurant? Where Mexican Americans could not somehow go to this particular grocery store, because of somebody’s religious belief? Civil rights can’t collapse under that [hostility]. It just can’t.
I don’t have any regrets in terms of our court’s decision. I think we were courageous and pushed back.
Our team would like to thank Justice Mary Yu for her generous time. We would also like to thank Jennifer Sanchez and Kayla Harris of NAMI Seattle for their revision assistance.
For the full text on the Arlene Flowers decision, which made it illegal for Washington State businesses to discriminate against customers based on their sexual orientation, see here. This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.