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Dropping Suit, Trump's DOJ Continues 'Abandoning Transgender Americans'

Justice Dept. on Friday withdraws suit against North Carolina over anti-LGBTQ law

HB2 protestors sit on the steps of the North Carolina Museum of History last year. (Photo: Nathania Johnson/flickr/cc)

Civil liberties groups are crying foul on Friday after the Trump administration's Department of Justice dropped its lawsuit against North Carolina over its anti-transgender legislation.

The withdrawal, filed Friday, was "in light of the passage" of the state's House Bill 142, the so-called replacement bill for the controversial House Bill 2, as NBC News reports.

HB2 had been decried as an "unprecedented attack on the LGBT community, in particular against transgender people," which sparked protests and boycotts, and took a significant economic toll on the state.  

Facing a threat from the Obama-era Justice Department over the law, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory in May 2016 filed a suit against the federal government, accusing it of "baseless and blatant overreach."

The Justice Department swiftly filed a dueling suit, with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch declaring: "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." The department accused the state of "engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender public employees and applicants in violation of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. Access to restrooms is an important, basic condition of employment and denying transgender individuals access to restrooms and changing facilities consistent with their gender identity constitutes unlawful sex discrimination."

HB142, passed March 30, was framed as a repeal of HB2.

But the problem, as the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal today see it, is that the repeal was bogus as the new law still sanctions anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

The Associated Press writes that it "got rid of the most well-known provision of House Bill 2 that required transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings." Yet, as Common Dreams wrote, "HB142 offers no state-level protection for LGBTQ people and includes a moratorium that prevents local governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances through at least 2020."

Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the ACLU, called the new law "HB2.0" and said it "is perhaps more insidious in its targeting of LGBTQ" people. "The bill makes it illegal to protect people from discrimination. And worse still, it does so under a claimed interest in protecting 'bathroom safety and privacy,'" Strangio worte.

Reacting to the DOJ's withdrawal, James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT Project, said: "The Trump administration may want to use the fake repeal of HB2 as an excuse to further turn their backs on the transgender community, but the rest of us aren't going to give up that easily."

Indeed, it's not the only anti-LGBTQ action taken by the not-yet-100-day-old administration. "Under Trump," Common Dreams wrote, "the Departments of Education and Justice in February dropped a guidance that instructed schools to protect LGBTQ students under Title IX, including by allowing transgender kids use the facilities that corresponded to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex."

Thus, said Jon W. Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, the lawsuit's withdrawal "was not unexpected, now that anti-transgender forces are in charge of the Departments of Justice and Education. Once again, the Trump administration continues to abandon transgender Americans."

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