North Carolina has made headlines recently for enacting laws requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex (as opposed to their gender identity). North Carolina and the United States Justice Department filed competing lawsuits against each other yesterday regarding the legality of the restroom law.
North Carolina’s position is that the law protects privacy rights of other people using public restrooms who think those rights are being violated when transgender individuals are allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The Justice Department fired back, saying North Carolina is “codifying discrimination” and vowing to protect the rights of transgender Americans.
In a press conference yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch had this to say to the transgender community: “[N]o 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.”
As Iowans, we are lucky to have state law protections (https://icrc.iowa.gov/your-rights/protected-classes) in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodation, education, and credit on the basis of gender identity. The Iowa Civil Rights Act has provided statutory protection for transgender Iowans under Chapter 216 of the Iowa Code since 2007. Gender identity is not a recognized protected class under Title VII, which is the federal anti-discrimination statute.
In 2012, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency charged with enforcing employment discrimination laws) held that transgender discrimination constituted sex discrimination under Title VII. Some federal courts have also found that Title VII sex discrimination encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity. However, the fact remains that Title VII still does not provide explicit protection on the basis of gender identity.
Iowa has been a longstanding pioneer of civil rights. We hope federal protections for transgender Americans will catch up with Iowa’s law in the near future. In the meantime, we appreciate Attorney General Lynch and the U.S. Department of Justice for their commitment to protecting the rights of transgender individuals in the face of discriminatory laws like North Carolina’s.
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