Monday, May 09, 2016

Full Remarks by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Civil Rights Division Leader Vanita Gupta on North Carolina's Anti-LGBT HB 2

Loretta Lynch to transgender community: 
"We see you, we stand with you and we will do everything we can to protect you." 

Full Remarks by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

Good afternoon and thank you all for being here.  Today, I’m joined by Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.  We are here to announce a significant law enforcement action regarding North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2. 

The North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 in special session on March 23 of this year.  The bill sought to strike down an anti-discrimination provision in a recently-passed Charlotte, North Carolina, ordinance, as well as to require transgender people in public agencies to use the bathrooms consistent with their sex as noted at birth, rather than the bathrooms that fit their gender identity.  The bill was signed into law that same day.  In so doing, the legislature and the governor placed North Carolina in direct opposition to federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity.  More to the point, they created state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals, who simply seek to engage in the most private of functions in a place of safety and security – a right taken for granted by most of us.  

Last week, our Civil Rights Division notified state officials that House Bill 2 violates federal civil rights laws.  We asked that they certify by the end of the day today that they would not comply with or implement House Bill 2’s restriction on restroom access.  An extension was requested by North Carolina and was under active consideration.  But instead of replying to our offer or providing a certification, this morning, the state of North Carolina and its governor chose to respond by suing the Department of Justice.  As a result of their decisions, we are now moving forward. 

Today, we are filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina.  We are seeking a court order declaring House Bill 2’s restroom restriction impermissibly discriminatory, as well as a statewide bar on its enforcement.  While the lawsuit currently seeks declaratory relief, I want to note that we retain the option of curtailing federal funding to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina as this case proceeds.

This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms.  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. 

This is not the first time that we have seen discriminatory responses to historic moments of progress for our nation.  We saw it in the Jim Crow laws that followed the Emancipation Proclamation.  We saw it in fierce and widespread resistance to Brown v. Board of Education.  And 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 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.

Let me speak now to the people of the great state, the beautiful state, my state of North Carolina.  You’ve been told that this law protects vulnerable populations from harm – but that just is not the case.  Instead, what this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share.  This law provides no benefit to society – all it does is harm innocent Americans.  

Instead of turning away from our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past.  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. 

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself.  Some of you have lived freely for decades.  Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead.  But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, 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.  

I want to thank my colleagues in the Civil Rights Division who have devoted many hours to this case so far, and who will devote many more to seeing it through.  At this time, I’d like to turn things over to Vanita Gupta, whose determined leadership on this and so many other issues has been essential to the Justice Department’s work.

Remarks by Civil Rights Division Leader Vanita Gupta:

Thank you, Attorney General Lynch, for those powerful words.  Throughout the arc of our country’s history – from tragedies of injustice to marches for equality – there have been pivotal moments when America’s leaders chose to stand up and speak out to safeguard the ideal of equal justice under law.  And history will record your inspiring words and our forceful action today as one of these moments.  

I also want to take a moment to thank the entire team throughout the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Justice, who have worked tirelessly over the last several weeks to ensure that everyone in North Carolina has the full protections of our laws.

Today, we filed a federal civil rights complaint in federal court in the Middle District of North Carolina.  Before I discuss the details of our legal argument, I want to make one thing clear.  Calling H.B. 2 a “bathroom bill” trivializes what this is really about.  H.B. 2 translates into discrimination in the real world.  The complaint we filed today speaks to public employees who feel afraid and stigmatized on the job.  It speaks to students who feel like their campus treats them differently because of who they are.  It speaks to sports fans who feel forced to choose between their gender identity and their identity as a Tar Heel.  And it speaks to all of us who have ever been made to feel inferior – like somehow we just don’t belong in our community, like somehow we just don’t fit in.  Let me reassure every transgender individual, right here in America, that you belong just as you are.  You are supported.  And you are protected.

Our complaint brings legal claims under three different civil rights statutes.  Two of these statutes are long-standing protections against discrimination in the employment and education contexts: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  It is fitting that these statutes – which emerged from our nation’s long struggle to banish a legacy of legal discrimination – are now being used to defend, to uphold and to reaffirm the progress that resulted from that struggle; progress that represents America at its best, at its brightest and at its strongest.

Title IX and Title VII prohibit discrimination based on sex.  The Department of Justice has for some time now made clear that sex discrimination includes discrimination against transgender people – that is, discrimination based on gender identity.  That is consistent not only with the language of the statutes, but also with the legal interpretations adopted by federal courts – including the appellate court with jurisdiction over the state of North Carolina.  There is nothing radical or even particularly unusual about the notion that the word “sex” includes the concept of “gender.”  Transgender people are discriminated against because their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.  H.B. 2 denies transgender people something that all non-transgender people enjoy and take for granted: access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity.  That’s sex discrimination, plain and simple.  This view is only confirmed when proponents of measures like H.B. 2 misinterpret or make up facts about gender identity.  Here are the facts.  Transgender men are men – they live, work and study as men.  Transgender women are women – they live, work and study as women.

Our Title VII claim is brought against the state and governor of North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina because of sex discrimination in employment.  Our Title IX claim is brought against the University of North Carolina because of sex discrimination in its education programs.

We also bring a claim under the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, a more recent statute specifically designed to prevent discrimination against transgender people by entities that accept certain federal funds.  As with Title IX, entities that accepted federal funds under VAWA – including UNC and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety – pledged that they would not discriminate on the basis of sex or gender identity.  Our complaint seeks to enforce that pledge and hold those entities accountable for the discrimination required by H.B. 2.

Even as we seek that compliance, we remain committed to working with any agency receiving federal funding to develop a plan to ensure their compliance with federal law.

For the reasons I just highlighted, H.B. 2 violates the law.  But H.B. 2 also threatens the values that define us as a people.  These values are timeless.  These values say to all people that you can be who you are, and you deserve to live with dignity.

The complaint filed today seeks to enforce these laws and protect these values.  At this time, the Attorney General and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.