In the Obama administration’s strongest rebuke to date of North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom law” -- a measure which has provoked a national outcry from LGBT advocates and severe corporate backlash against the state -- U.S. Justice Department officials on Wednesday notified Republican Gov. Pat McCrory that the controversial legislation violated federal law.
The agency gave North Carolina officials until Monday to confirm “the State will not comply with or implement” the law, known as House Bill 2, according to a letter obtained by the Charlotte Observer. Should state officials ignore the Justice Department, North Carolina could lose millions of dollars in federal funding.
Enacted during a one-day special session in March, HB 2 nullified all local non-discrimination protections for LGBT North Carolinians and banned transgender people from using government building bathrooms in line with their gender identities. Wednesday’s letter states that HB 2 violates Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which protects students from sex discrimination, and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, among other characteristics.
“Access to sex-segregated restrooms and other workplace facilities consistent with gender identity is a term, condition or privilege of employment,” wrote Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter. “Denying such access to transgender individuals, whose gender identity is different from the gender assigned at birth, while affording it to similarly situated non-transgender employees, violates Title VII.”
“HB 2,” added Gupta, “is facially discriminatory.”
The letter was also sent to the N.C. Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina, which last month announced it would comply with the regulations in HB 2. North Carolina currently receives $861 million in federal education funding, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Wednesday’s letter should come as no surprise to North Carolina officials. The Obama administration has taken numerous steps to advance LGBT equality where Congress has failed to act, such as the Justice Department’s decision in 2014 to expand its legal definition of sex discrimination to cover discrimination based on gender identity as well, and the Department of Education’s guidance that same year stating that transgender students were protected under Title IX. Both agencies recently filed briefs in support of a transgender student who is suing his Virginia school board over the right to use the boy’s bathroom in line with his gender identity.
In April, meanwhile, the Obama administration said it was considering whether HB 2 made North Carolina ineligible for federal funding, and later that month, President Obama told reporters during a press conference in the U.K. that the law “should be overturned.”
LGBT advocates were quick to applaud the Justice Department’s action Wednesday.
“The letter confirms what we've already known - that HB2 is deeply discriminatory, violates federal civil rights law, and needs to be repealed as soon as possible,” said Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro in a statement. “We've already lost $500 million in economic impact and now we are violating federal civil rights law and risking Title IX funding. This is a travesty and embarrassment for North Carolina.”
State lawmakers filed a measure to repeal HB 2 last week, and that bill, said Sgro, “should be considered immediately.”