Justice: Gay employees may hold event, but must cover costs

Saying that allegations of sexual discrimination by the Justice Department had stemmed from a "miscommunication," a Justice spokesman said Tuesday that a group of homosexual employees will be allowed to hold their annual Gay Pride ceremony at the department's headquarters. But the agency will not officially sponsor the event as it has for the past five years. As a result, the employees will have to pay for the cost of the ceremony, which commemorates the achievements of gay civil rights leaders.

Last week, directors of DOJ Pride, the department's official homosexual employee association, were informed that the group would not be allowed to hold its annual ceremony on Justice Department property, said Allison Nichol, the group's vice president and an attorney in the department's civil rights division. Nichol said the group was told that, under an official policy, the group could not hold the event at headquarters because President Bush hadn't issued a proclamation recognizing Gay Pride Month, which takes place in June. The policy had never been written down, and thus wasn't communicated to employees, Nichol said the group was told.

Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, said that DOJ Pride had been told they could hold their event at headquarters, but that the department wouldn't sponsor it. However, Nichol said her group was informed last week that even if it wasn't a sponsored event, the group still couldn't use Justice property.

"They are reversing themselves," Nichol said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Justice officials still hadn't formally contacted DOJ Pride directors to clarify their position, Nichol said. She, as well as other gay rights groups in the government and in Washignton, said they heard first of the developments from journalists who'd been called by the Justice Department press office.

Since the DOJ Pride event won't be officially sponsored, the Justice employees will have to cover all costs on their own, including payment for security and audiovisual equipment. In the five years the group has held its annual commemoration, the department always has covered almost all of the costs and has allowed use of official property, Nichol said.

Justice has covered costs for other commemorative events, such as black history celebrations, Corallo said. Other minority groups also have been allowed to hold their commemoration ceremonies on Justice grounds. However, Corallo said that DOJ Pride was the only "employee association" that Justice had sponsored in the past. Justice hosted other commemorative events officially, as a department, and those events weren't convened by a particular group of employees. Since there is no proclamation recognizing Gay Pride, the department is under no obligation to sponsor events by employee groups commemorating it, Corallo explained.

That rationale is "discriminatory," said Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal GLOBE, the federal government's umbrella association of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. "The department has created a rule which they knew would only impact a single group of people," he said.

David Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation's leading gay rights groups, said Justice was "still treating this event unequally. They're . . . taking a step backward."

Corallo said the unwritten policy was one of the primary factors in deciding not to sponsor DOJ Pride. However, he added, "also we're trying to save money." Corallo said that federal budgets were tight and that the department had to look for areas to cut costs.