RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV/AP) - The U.S. Justice Department says a North Carolina law that limits protections to LGBT people violates federal civil rights laws.
The Obama Administration agency on Wednesday put North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on notice that that state officials must confirm by Monday that they will not comply with or implement the law called House Bill 2.
A letter from the Justice Department obtained by The Associated Press said the law violates Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in education based on sex. That could lead to North Carolina losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal school funding.
"A claim by the Obama administration charges that one part of House Bill 2, which requires state employees in public government buildings and students in our universities to use a restroom, locker room and shower facility that match their biological sex, is now in violation of federal law," Governor Pat McCrory said Wednesday evening. "The Obama administration has not only staked out its position for North Carolina, but for all states, universities and most employers in the U.S. The right and expectation of privacy in one of the most private areas of our personal lives is now in jeopardy. We will be reviewing to determine the next steps."
"The thing they're attacking, there has been various criticism here and there about what's been called the bathroom bill," House Speaker Tim Moore said Wednesday afternoon. "This attack from the Obama administration is clearly as to the bathroom provision, there's no doubt, what they're saying is that, and you've got to follow it all the way, if you follow out what they're saying is, not only can state facilities say that a men's room is for men and a women's room is for women, but if you take it to its logical conclusion, then private businesses would not be able to do the same."
"This would be a mandate on every business in North Carolina, every institution of education that they have to allow their bathrooms to allow anyone to use those based on gender identity," Moore continued.
Erica Lachowitz is a transgender woman who calls Charlotte home.
"It's a sign of legitimacy that we've been waiting for and I think the city council also feels that legitimacy in what they've done," Lachowitz said.
Lachowitz tells WBTV the DOJ's letter is more personal than political for her.
"My legitimacy partially got restored tonight having the federal government backing us," Lachowitz said.
Last month, President Barack Obama said North Carolina's law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people is wrong and should be overturned.
North Carolina has faced a national backlash from gay rights groups, entertainers and business leaders who say the law unfairly targets gay and lesbian people. Obama's comments came after the U.K. put out a travel advisory warning British citizens about possible discrimination if they travel to certain U.S. states.
Democratic Representative Ed Hanes, from Forsyth County, says he didn't see this move coming from the federal government.
"I was completely caught off guard, but absolutely happy that it's happened and look forward to working with leadership to come to some type of conclusion," Hanes said.
Newly appointed Democratic Representative Chris Sgro, who previously served as the Executive Director for Equality NC, spoke out about the announcement.
"What this says is that transgender people need to use the restroom just like everybody else and they should use the correct restroom that matches their gender identity," Sgro said. "That's what federal civil rights law provides and that's what we should be doing in the state of North Carolina, that is common sense."
Sgro is the only openly gay member currently in the legislature.
"We just received the letter, so as you may imagine we're letting the attorneys look at it," Speaker Moore said. "Before I comment on what our course of action is, I want to have an opportunity to consult with the senate and also the governor."
"HB 2 is a discriminatory, dangerous piece of legislation and today the Department of Justice confirmed that it violates federal civil rights law," said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin. "We commend the Justice Department for enforcing the rule of law and protecting the rights of North Carolinians. We once again urge Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina to immediately do the same and fully repeal this harmful bill."
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal - which are challenging HB 2 in federal court on behalf of six LGBT North Carolinians – released a statement Wednesday afternoon.
"It is now clearer than ever that this discriminatory law violates civil rights protections and jeopardizes billions of dollars in federal funds for North Carolina. Governor McCrory and the legislators who forced through HB 2 in a single day were warned about these dire consequences, but they ignored the law and the North Carolinians it would harm and passed the bill anyway. The only way to reverse the ongoing damage HB 2 is causing to North Carolina's people, economy, and reputation is a full repeal."
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has been a staunch proponent for House Bill 2.
"This is a gross overreach by the Obama Justice Department that deserves to be struck down in federal court, and I cannot say it any better than Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer did recently: 'This unprecedented holding overrules custom, culture, and the very demands inherent in human nature for privacy and safety, which the separation of such facilities is designed to protect. More particularly, it also misconstrues the clear language of Title IX and its regulations. And finally, it reaches an unworkable and illogical result.'"
Moore echoed Berger's statement.
"The letters received today serve to give notice that President Obama intends to sue the State of North Carolina unless we yield to his views. They are not court decrees or automatic declarations of law and the issues raised in his letters are far from being decided," Moore said. "President Obama's interpretation of Title VII and Title IX would radically change all universally accepted protections of privacy and safety that are based on the anatomical differences between the sexes."
Moore went on to say, "Rather than effectively engage in the legislative process, the Constitutional process by which elected representatives of the people of North Carolina and the United States enact laws, the Obama Administration continues to circumvent the will of the electorate and instead unilaterally exert its extreme agenda on the people directly through executive orders, radical interpretations of well-settled common-sense laws and through the federal court system."