In suing her home state for discriminating against transgender people, Attorney General Loretta Lynch invoked the defining civil rights struggles of the last century and made clear that the federal government sees its dispute with North Carolina as about far more than bathrooms and showers.

Lynch, a native North Carolinian and the first black woman to run the Justice Department, elevated the profile of her agency’s clash with North Carolina over its new bathroom law by placing it in the context of America’s Jim Crow era – when signs above water fountains and restaurants fostered race discrimination – as well as more recent efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.

“Instead of turning away from our neighbors, friends and colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past,” Lynch directly addressed North Carolina residents during her news conference Monday announcing the lawsuit. “Let us reflect on the obvious but neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good and never works in hindsight.”

Her remarks, in unusually forceful and personal language, came as North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory refused to back down over the state law requiring transgender people to use the public restroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. The Justice Department says the measure violates civil rights laws and seeks a court order to block it.

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