The U.S. Justice Department has barred its employees from holding their annual gay pride celebration at the department's headquarters in Washington, D.C., The New York Times reports. Gay activists say it's the first time any federal agency has blocked a pride event. According to the employee group DOJ Pride, which includes several hundred gay and lesbian Justice Department employees, members were told by department officials that they couldn't hold their annual celebration this month because the White House does not formally recognize Gay Pride Month with a presidential proclamation.
"This sends a real chilling message to Justice Department employees who are gay and lesbian," said David Smith, a spokesman for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "This says, 'You're not welcome.... It says that employees can celebrate Asian-American Heritage Month and Hispanic Heritage Month and so on, but you cannot."
According to a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, this new policy regarding pride violates an explicit promise Attorney General John Ashcroft made at his confirmation hearing. The policy also violates the department's own antidiscrimination policy, the ACLU said. At his confirmation hearing on January 17, 2001, and five days later in writing, Ashcroft assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would not discriminate against the department's pride group and that he would not change the department's policy on how the group was treated.
"The only group apparently excluded under this new policy is the gay group," said Matt Coles, director of of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "That looks like discrimination to me."
Last year the department's second-ranking official, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, spoke to about 150 people gathered for the department's pride celebration, which has been an annual event since the late 1990s. But Thompson's appearance drew criticism from far-right conservatives, some of whom accused Ashcroft, who has often opposed gay rights measures, of abandoning them.