Let there be no doubt for transgender individuals in North Carolina and around the country that the federal government has their backs. After methodically pressuring school districts around the country to be inclusive of trans students, the Department of Justice has stepped it up a notch with Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself laying out why HB2 and other anti-trans laws are discriminatory and wrong — in strong, empowering, and inclusive language that everyone needs to hear.
In announcing that the DOJ was suing North Carolina over its offensive anti-LGBT legislation that was passed last month, Lynch gave the most important speech on trans rights ever given my a government official. She laid out why civil rights for trans people matter, unequivocally declaring the full equality and dignity of transgender Americans. That is huge.
The discriminatory law is about much more than bathrooms, she says. The government should not be in the business of discriminating against its citizens. That's the crux of the matter; it's about how the United States government will work to ensure that what's right triumphs. All Americans need to be treated fairly from coast-to-coast:
This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them — indeed, to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country — haltingly but inexorably — in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.
Then she went into where HB2 fits in the long line of less-than-perfect laws passed in the country. "This is not the first time that we have seen discriminatory responses to historic moments of progress for our nation," the attorney general said, proceeding to compare HB2 to Jim Crow laws that came after the Emancipation Proclamation and the negative reactions to Brown v. Board of Education. Then she brought it back to the advancements and challenges to the LGBT rights movement:
We saw it in the proliferation of state bans on same-sex unions intended to stifle any hope that gay and lesbian Americans might one day be afforded the right to marry. That right, of course, is now recognized as a guarantee embedded in our Constitution, and in the wake of that historic triumph, we have seen bill after bill in state after state taking aim at the LGBT community. Some of these responses reflect a recognizably human fear of the unknown, and a discomfort with the uncertainty of change.
But that fear contradicts what it means to be American:
But this is not a time to act out of fear. This is a time to summon our national virtues of inclusivity, diversity, compassion, and open-mindedness. What we must not do—what we must never do—is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans, for something they cannot control, and deny what makes them human. This is why none of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insists that a person pretend to be something they are not, or invents a problem that doesn’t exist as a pretext for discrimination and harassment.
Explaining to North Carolinians — and all Americans — why this bill puts our principles at risk is very important. Fear of the unknown shouldn't trump any of our ideals that with the work of so many, the sacrifices of so many, has created a country that's increasingly inclusive of minorities, works to empower women, and lets gay people marry. The arc of justice can keep bending towards justice with people like Lynch in charge.
But she's not done there. Lynch is actually from North Carolina, and she speaks directly to the people of the state:
Let us reflect on the obvious but often neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good in hindsight. It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference. We have moved beyond those dark days, but not without pain and suffering and an ongoing fight to keep moving forward. Let us write a different story this time. Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion, diversity, and regard for all that make our country great.
Then she goes on to talk directly to the transgender community directly:
The Department of Justice and the entire Obama administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy—but we’ll get there together.
This might be the most important part of her speech. The unequivocal support from the Justice Department. The most discriminatory measures of HB2 are about transgender people. And as long as there's no federal laws protecting them, this sort of thing can continue. Luckily, the DOJ's lawsuit against the state of North Carolina is awesome, truly capturing why gender identity and expression are included in any law that protects against discrimination based on sex.
The lawsuit reads:
Gender identity is innate, and external efforts to change a person’s gender identity can be harmful to a person’s health and well-being... A transgender man’s sex is male and a transgender woman’s sex is female.
This is huge because a win in the courts would confirm that transgender Americans are already protected against existing anti-discrimination laws like the Civil Rights Act and Title IX that protect against discrimination based on sex. As long as states like North Carolina are controlled by anti-trans legislators, it will be up to the federal government to stand in their corner, and that must be affirmed by the courts.