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Ashcroft, in Shift, OKs Gay Event, at a Price

June 11, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft will allow gay and lesbian Justice Department employees to hold an annual gathering at agency headquarters if they foot the bill, a move critics said Tuesday was a clumsy reversal of a previous decision.

Officials with the group DOJ Pride said last week they were told that the awards ceremony could not be held in the agency's Great Hall on Wednesday.

But agency spokesman Mark Corallo said the intention was not to block the group from holding the event, only to make it clear it would not be officially sponsored by the department. That means the group's members must pay any costs themselves.

"They will not be officially sponsored this year, just like every other group," Corallo said. "They took that to mean they couldn't have the event."

Allison Nichol, vice president of DOJ Pride, disputed that. She said the organization was told clearly last week they could not hold the event in the Great Hall, the Justice Department courtyard or a conference room -- even if they paid for it.

Still, Nichol said the group would welcome the change as a "partial reversal" of the previous ban while hoping that "they would be willing to sponsor this event." She said other employee groups have had their events sponsored.

Reports of the denial prompted outrage among gay and lesbian groups and from Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who wrote an angry letter to Ashcroft questioning the Justice Department's commitment to fairness.

Lautenberg issued a statement Tuesday calling the new policy "the politics of a cover-up" and said he would urge hearings by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee into possible violations of civil rights.

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