Why This Week Was Historic

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May 13, 2016
Leslie Gabel-Brett

Between Monday and Friday, our federal government said this: North Carolina cannot strip away federal protections from LGBT people, transgender students must have fair and safe access to restrooms in all public schools, and LGBT people cannot be discriminated against in securing health care or insurance coverage from entities receiving federal funds.

It’s been a very good week. And it didn’t happen by accident or overnight – such actions were based on years of litigation and advocacy by Lambda Legal and others.

On Monday, the Department of Justice sued the state of North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory for enacting a state law that discriminates against LGBT people by violating Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act.

Lambda Legal had already sued the state to strike down HB2, and we were thrilled that the Justice Department joined us in saying that North Carolina cannot strip equality out of federal law. This law is a targeted and unprecedented attack on the LGBT community, particularly against transgender people.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke eloquently to the transgender community and to the nation:

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.

With these words from our country’s highest legal officer, the ground shifted. Lambda Legal will continue to fight in court, along with the Department of Justice, to strike down this terrible state law.

On Friday, federal regulations were issued that changed the landscape further: The Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued new guidance directing public schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. This new guidance is a powerful and affirming statement recognizing the imperative that schools be safe, respectful and nurturing environments for all students.

And then, an hour later, the Department of Health and Human Services released final rules confirming that LGBT people are protected against health care discrimination under the Affordable Care Act. The new rules confirm that individuals cannot be denied health care or health insurance by any providers or insurers receiving federal funding based on their sex, including their gender identity or nonconformity with sex stereotypes, including the stereotype that all people are, or should be, heterosexual, or based on the sex of the person with whom the individual is in a relationship.

Lambda Legal has been carefully and strategically building the legal arguments to support the actions taken this week by the federal government. We have litigated cases to secure protections at work, at school and at the doctor’s office for transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual and gender-nonconforming students and workers. Our work is paying off.

Sometimes, one important change occurs, then another and then another – and suddenly you realize that the landscape has dramatically changed. Remember this week.