N.C., Target transgender restroom debates rage on

NASHVILLE (BP) -- In the continuing political debate of transgender restroom policies, one U.S. state has received a threat from the Obama administration over its restroom use restrictions while another has asked discount retailer Target to explain how it will protect women and children from abuse of an open restroom policy.

North Carolina pro-family leaders say the Obama administration has engaged in "bullying" and an "attack on religious freedom" by threatening legal action if the state does not rescind its law requiring individuals in government buildings to use restrooms based on the gender indicated on their birth certificates.

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent Target CEO Brian Cornell a letter May 3 expressing concern "that allowing men in women's restrooms [at Target stores] could lead to criminal and otherwise unwanted activity."

North Carolina

The U.S. Department of Justice sent letters yesterday (May 4) to three North Carolina officials -- Gov. Pat McCrory, Secretary of Public Safety Frank Perry and University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings -- alleging the state's Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (H.B. 2) violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments and the 2013 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, told Baptist Press, "We have a radical, rogue administration that is bullying the state of North Carolina to compromise the privacy and safety of our citizens. The Obama administration is trying to impose a new definition for the word 'sex' on states like North Carolina."

Each Department of Justice letter was signed by principal deputy attorney general Vanita Gupta and threatened a lawsuit if North Carolina fails to state by May 9 an intention to change its restroom use laws.

Gupta wrote to McCrory, "The State is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees."

H.B. 2, which took effect March 23, "is facially discriminatory against transgender employees on the basis of sex," Gupta wrote, "because it treats transgender employees, whose gender identity does not match their 'biological sex,' as defined by H.B. 2, differently from similarly situated non-transgender employees.

"Under H.B. 2," the letter continued, "non-transgender state employees may access restrooms and changing facilities that are consistent with their gender identity in public buildings, while transgender state employees may not."

The letters seemed to suggest North Carolina could lose millions of dollars in federal money if it does not change its laws.

McCrory, a Republican, said in a statement, "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."

Fitzgerald, a trustee of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said she believes an April decision by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., played a role in motivating the Department of Justice's letters. In that decision -- which was cited in all three letters -- two Obama-appointed judges held that Title IX's ban of sex discrimination should be interpreted to include gender identity discrimination.

"The Obama administration's letters yesterday just heightened the attack on religious freedom that we've seen across the country," Fitzgerald said. "Now the administration itself is directly impeding religious freedom for a majority of people in the country," who hold traditional beliefs about gender.

"And really it's greater than religious freedom because even people that aren't religious understand that men don't belong in the women's bathroom and middle school boys don't belong in the girls' locker room," Fitzgerald said.

Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told BP the administration's declaration that the word "sex" in Title VII and Title IX includes sexual orientation and gender identity "goes far beyond the language adopted and intended by Congress."

Nevertheless, Creech said in written comments, Obama "holds the educational futures of our state's children hostage, while dangling the money bags of federal funds over their heads, demanding in exchange North Carolina bow to the madness of obliterating male and female distinctives -- something foundational to every society in human history."

Texas

Paxton, a Republican, wrote to Target's CEO in response to the retailer's April 19 news release stating, "We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity."

That policy provoked calls by the American Family Association for a Target boycott which drew nearly 1.2 million online pledges of support by midday May 5.

Target, Paxton wrote, "is currently free to choose such a policy for its Texas stores." But he noted, "The voters in Houston recently repealed by a wide margin an ordinance that advanced many of the same goals as Target's current policy."

The Texas legislature "may at some point in the future address" transgender restroom use, Paxton wrote. In the meantime, "as chief lawyer and law enforcement officer for the State of Texas, I ask that you provide the full text of Target's safety policies regarding the protection of women and children from those who would use the cover of Target's restroom policy for nefarious purposes."

AFA spokesman Walker Wildmon praised Paxton's letter.

"It's fabulous that someone in leadership in our country is stepping up to the plate and asking the tough questions that need to be asked," Wildmon told Fox News.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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