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Anti-LGBTQ Bias Pervasive at Justice Department, Employees Say

Jeff Sessions and William Barr
From left: Jeff Sessions and William Barr

DOJ Pride, representing LGBTQ employees at the department, cited many complaints in a letter to Attorney General William Barr.

LGBTQ employees at the Department of Justice, run until last fall by the notoriously homophobic Jeff Sessions, say they're subject to rampant discrimination on the job.

DOJ Pride, an organization of LGBTQ workers in the department, sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General William Barr, who was confirmed to that post in February. The letter cited negative comments made by DOJ Pride members in a survey last October, when Sessions was still at the helm as attorney general, as well as his refusal to issue an equal employment opportunity statement, required of all federal agencies.

"The DOJ is no longer the welcoming, inclusive environment for LGBTQ employees that it once was," said one survey respondent. Another said, "I am leaving the DOJ in part due to the DOJ's treatment of its LGBTQ employees." Some others mentioned an "unfair evaluation process" at the FBI Academy (the FBI is part of the Justice Department), saying, "There are many gay agents attending that are dismissed because they are not 'bro-y' or masculine enough." Another part of the department, the Bureau of Prisons, is a tough environment for gay men and transgender people, one respondent said.

"It's difficult and demoralizing not knowing if your employer really believes LGBTQ people should have antidiscrimination protections (housing, employment, accommodations) or not," said another commenter. One more remark was "This administration's lack of regard for the wellbeing of its LGBTQ employees has led to the predictable result that many LGBTQ employees have left the Department."

Only 31 percent of respondents agreed that "the Department of Justice values its LGBTQ employees," and just 43 percent agreed that "the Department of Justice does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression." And fewer than 10 percent agreed that the department "attracts and retains the best LGBTQ talent."

The letter noted that a coalition of the department's affinity groups called on Sessions in February 2018 to issue an EEO policy statement, and he never did. The statement "must affirm that, at a minimum, all employees and applicants for employment will be able to pursue equal employment opportunities regardless of their sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), race, religion, color, national origin, age, genetic information, or disability," DOJ Pride wrote.

The EEO statement on the Justice Department's website was written by Sessions's immediate predecessor, Loretta Lynch, an appointee of President Barack Obama. But other members of Trump's Cabinet have issued them, including some with notably anti-LGBTQ histories, such as Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

Sessions was the first attorney general in Donald Trump's administration; a former U.S. senator with an intensely anti-LGBTQ record, he resigned in November at the behest of Trump, who was enraged that Sessions recused himself from the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Under Sessions, the DOJ reversed many Obama-era policies that were supportive of LGBTQ people; among other things, it lifted guidelines on equal treatment of transgender students and took the stand that existing civil rights law banning sex discrimination does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. One employee answering the survey said it's a given that DOJ workers sometimes have to enforce policies they disagree with, but that makes it all the more important for the agency to be conciliatory toward its staff.

Matthew Whitaker, who was acting attorney general until Barr's confirmation, was not particularly supportive of LGBTQ rights either. And Barr has made some statements that could easily be considered homophobic, although he contended in his confirmation hearings that they were misunderstood and said anti-LGBTQ discrimination is wrong, but he maintained it's not covered by existing law.

DOJ Pride congratulated Barr on his appointment but added, "We are concerned that so many employees who dedicate themselves to the Department do not think the Department values them, or that it attracts the best and brightest of the LGBTQ community." There are "issues the Department must address, including morale, recruitment, retention, and fair treatment," the letter noted.

The DOJ has so far not commented on the letter.

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