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Justice Dept. Off-Limits for Workers' Gay Pride Event

Employees have been allowed to give awards at headquarters in the past. A policy change is cited.

June 07, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Civil rights groups and a senator criticized the Justice Department on Friday for rejecting plans by an employee group to hold a gay pride event at the agency's headquarters.

Department officials refused to allow DOJ Pride, which represents about 200 gay and lesbian Justice Department employees, to hold its annual meeting this year in the department's Great Hall, where it has been held for several years.

Marina Colby, president of DOJ Pride, said the group was notified last week that it could not hold its annual Gay Pride Month awards ceremony June 18 in the Great Hall because of a policy change from Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's office. The denial was first reported Friday in the New York Times.

Colby, a department analyst, said she was told that the new policy prohibits such commemorations unless they are supported by a presidential proclamation.

Unlike President Clinton, President Bush has not designated a month to recognize gay pride.

"We do remain hopeful that the decision will be reversed," Colby said. "We want to be treated the same as the other employee associations."

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) urged Ashcroft to reconsider the decision and threatened legislation to address the matter.

Lautenberg also invited Justice employees barred from the event to celebrate Gay Pride Month with him on Capitol Hill.

"I find it particularly outrageous that the Department of Justice, whose mission is to ensure fairness for all Americans, would deprive its own staff members of the right to gather on public property," Lautenberg wrote in a letter to Ashcroft.

Lautenberg noted that, during Ashcroft's confirmation hearing in 2001, Ashcroft was asked by Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) whether he would continue to allow DOJ Pride hold its annual meeting at the department's headquarters.

Ashcroft responded, "It would be my intention not to discriminate against any group that is appropriately constituted in the Department of Justice."

The Justice Department would not comment Friday except to say the decision was made internally.

Matthew A. Coles, director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, said the decision apparently violates the Justice Department's own nondiscrimination policy, which promises to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

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