WASHINGTON (AP) — In suing the state where she was born and raised for discriminating against transgender people, Attorney General Loretta Lynch invoked the defining civil rights struggles of the last century and made clear that the federal government sees its dispute with North Carolina as about far more than bathrooms and showers.
Lynch, the first black woman to hold the job, elevated the profile of the Justice Department’s potentially epic clash with North Carolina over its new bathroom law by placing it in the context of America’s Jim Crow era — when signs above water fountains and restaurants fostered race discrimination — as well as more recent efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.
“Instead of turning away from our neighbors, friends and colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past,” Lynch said at a news conference Monday announcing the lawsuit, directly addressing North Carolina residents. “Let us reflect on the obvious but neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good and never works in hindsight.”
Her remarks, in unusually forceful and personal language, came as North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory refused to back down over a law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. The Justice Department says the measure violates civil rights laws and is seeking a court order to block it.
Lynch’s announcement of a lawsuit — and her reassurance to the transgender community that “We see you” — brought tears to Stephen Wiseman, a 37-year-old social worker and transgender man in Asheville, who praised Lynch for giving “historical examples that people can relate to.”
He said it was a historic moment to have the attorney general stand behind a podium and offer transgender people such affirmation.