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Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Now our state is in a legal battle with the U.S. government. It is not going to end well.

Gov. Pat McCrory responded to the U.S. Department of Justice Monday with a complaint for declaratory judgment filed in federal court in Raleigh. Legislators then took a similar action.

Later, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced her department will launch a major enforcement action against North Carolina, accusing it of state-sponsored discrimination.

The Greensboro native compared House Bill 2 to Jim Crow laws passed in response to Reconstruction, resistance to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling against school segregation and state bans on same-sex marriage that were overturned last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

North Carolina already was in deep trouble as corporations, sports associations, business groups, entertainers and others canceled or threatened to withdraw projects, entertainment events and other commitments in the state. Some Republican legislators began to look for a way out of this mess. McCrory pulled the rug out from under any hopes of a settlement Monday. His complaint asks a federal court to rule against the Justice Department’s position that HB 2 conflicts with federal law.

“They are now telling every government agency and every company that employs more than 15 people that men should be allowed to use a women’s locker room, restroom or shower facility,” McCrory said.

The Justice Department sees the issue differently.

“Transgender men are men. ... Transgender women are women,” Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta said.

As he has stated for weeks, McCrory again acknowledged Monday that gender-identity issues are “complex and emotional.” Yet he still frames his stance in simplistic and ultimately misleading terms. He ignores letters from medical associations and fails to consider the stories of transgender people. He either doesn’t understand, or refuses to concede, that this isn’t about men using women’s facilities. It is about people who live and fully identify as one gender using the facilities that conform to that identity. This is what transgender people did before HB 2 created a dilemma for them and a world of trouble for our entire state.

The great irony is that, even if one believes this has anything to do with bathroom safety, HB 2 still isn’t worth defending because it does nothing to make bathrooms safer. It has no enforcement mechanisms and sets no penalties for using the “wrong” facilities.

It’s clear what should have happened by now. The legislature should have repealed HB 2 in whole, dumping all of its ill-intended edicts, including a provision barring cities from enacting anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians. The legislature could address bathroom concerns by setting strict penalties for criminal behavior, including indecent exposure, in public facilities. Instead, the governor and legislative leaders have stirred up imaginary fears of bathroom predators posing as women to carry out assaults on unsuspecting women and girls. This ruse might excite some voters, but whatever political gain McCrory and others realize is going to be buried under the legal and economic costs.

At risk are billions of dollars in federal funding, not to mention more economic damage inflicted by corporations that don’t want to conduct business in a socially regressive state.

“This is not a time to act out of fear. This is a time to summon our national virtues of inclusivity, diversity, compassion and open-mindedness,” said Lynch, who was a small child during the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-ins.

She knows the moment when she sees it, and she knows which side will prevail. McCrory must recognize where this is going and put an end to it.

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