The Department of Justice announced a lawsuit against North Carolina today concerning House Bill 2—the law passed with an intent to repeal and outlaw several anti-discrimination protections afforded to the LGBTI community. Attorney General Loretta Lynch presented details of the lawsuit alongside Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division.
One point both women wanted to make very clear is that House Bill 2 and similar bills should not be considered "bathroom bills", as they are about so much more than bathrooms. Lynch stated these bills are about denying dignity and respect to our fellow citizens in the same manner as Jim Crow laws, resistance to Brown v Board of Education, and the state bans on same sex unions. Gupta agreed that referring to these bills as "bathroom bills" trivializes what the laws are really intended for; they translate to discrimination in the real world. The message sent by the Department of Justice is that these bills do not stop at the bathroom stall, but expand into every arena of daily life.
And Gupta wants to make sure people are aware that the Department of Justice hears them. She wants her complaint to speak to students who feel their campus treats them differently, employees who feel stigmatized, sports fans who feel like they must choose between their gender identity and the state's wishes; in fact, Gupta states, this complaint speaks to "all of us who have ever been made to feel inferior, like we don't belong in our community or don't fit in." More than anything else, she wants every transgender individual to understand that they belong, just as they are, and are supported and protected by the Department of Justice. Lynch feels the same way, and hopes every transgender individual feeling isolated, alone, and afraid knows the Department of Justice and the entire Obama administration will stand with them, doing everything they can to protect the rights of the transgender community.
For these reasons, the Department of Justice has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against North Carolina. The Department moved forward on this action after giving North Carolina until today to certify that they would not enforce or comply with the language of House Bill 2. When given such an opportunity, Governor Pat McCrory opted instead to sue the Department of Justice—even stating that Congress should decide whether gender identity discrimination is covered under federal statutes.
Lynch responded to a reporter's inquiry about McCrory's request by stating that several federal rulings have already clarified the protections afforded to gender identity under statues such as Titles IX, VII, and the Violence Against Women Act. One such ruling with protective interpretation includes the federal appeals court whose jurisdiction includes North Carolina, as mentioned by Gupta. She went on to say, "There is nothing radical or even unusual about the notion that the word sex includes the concept of gender." Gupta also called out North Carolina's legislature for making up facts about gender identity, rebutting them by stating firmly that transgender men are men who live, work, and study as men. She gave the same confirmation for transgender women.
The lawsuit being brought includes the three statues mentioned above as the specific rulings that apply to North Carolina's House Bill 2. Title VII's claim is being brought against the state, the Department of Public Safety, and the University of North Carolina due to sex discrimination in employment, while Title IX's claim is brought against the university due to sex discrimination in educational programs. The Violence Against Women Act contains language concerning discrimination against transgender individuals, and any entity accepting certain federal funds must agree to not engage in such discrimination. This claim will be brought against unspecified entities, but would likely include the university.
Will the Department of Justice bring similar lawsuits and interventions in other states? Lynch didn't provide specific names of any states, only stating that her department is monitoring and reviewing any such laws and is open to discussions with jurisdictions to make sure these laws do not conflict with federal statutes. Concerning Mississippi's recent law allowing services to be denied to individuals perceived as being homosexual, Lynch said the Department of Justice is reviewing the law but cannot disclose anything at this time. A similar answer was given when a reporter brought up the other facets of House Bill 2, specifically the language that banned certain anti-discrimination laws in North Carolina; Lynch noted that there are other lawsuits the Department of Justice is pursuing with regards to House Bill 2, also hinting at a lawsuit concerning voter's rights.
Finally, on the subject of McCrory's claim that action against House Bill 2 is equivalent to bullying and government overreach, Lynch didn't pull any punches. She replied, "I think the people who feel bullied are the transgender individuals in the state of North Carolina, who have lived alongside their neighbors without any problems—and have done so for years—and are now being singled out on something they have no control over, and is an essential part of who they are." The most important language Lynch used in both her speech and responses was to make it clear that House Bill 2 is state-sanctioned discrimination.
At this time, no information has been presented concerning exactly what funding the Department of Justice will be looking to curtail. Lynch has only stated that the department reserves the right to curtail federal funding when entities receiving such funding are found to engage in discrimination. She did state, however, that the University of North Carolina has reached out to the Department of Justice, and that the university's Board of Governors will be meeting on May 10th. Any movement to begin curtailing funding would begin after those discussions.
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