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Gay DOJ Employees See Halting Progress On Rights
Posted By Ryan J. Reilly On October 13, 2009 @ 11:02 pm In News | Comments Disabled
Among the marchers at last Sunday’s National Equality March  in Washington were members of DOJ Pride, an organization representing gay and lesbian employees of the Department of Justice.
Christopher Hook, DOJ Pride president, said in an interview there’s been ”a big leap forward” in addressing gay and lesbian issues at the Department of Justice in recent years.
“There has certainly been progress, and we’re working with the administration to codify a lot of that progress,” said Hook, who is with the department’s Justice Management Division. “We have an improved working relationship with this administration.”
Last year, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey reversed a five-year ban on DOJ Pride’s use of department facilities and email. The ban had been instituted by John Ashcroft, a former Missouri senator and evangelical Christian who was President George W. Bush’s first AG.
Hook said he and several other DOJ employees took part in the march to celebrate progress on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues.
At the Justice Department, Jenny Durkan, an openly gay Seattle lawyer, was recently confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington. And Matt Nosanchuk, a former adviser to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), joined the civil division  of DOJ as a liaison to the LGBT community. Attorney General Eric Holder has urged  Congress to pass hate crimes legislation, and he’s spoken about the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots  before DOJ Pride.
“Let’s be honest, too many of the same obstacles that existed then remain for us to overcome,” Holder told the group, according to the Washington Blade . “But neither the frustrations of the past, nor the challenges of the future should deter us from our goal — our responsibility — to continue our efforts to ensure the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans.”
But one high-profile court filing caused a rift in the relationship – a summer court filing defending the Defense of Marriage Act.
“The entire community was somewhat outraged by the justification in the briefing, which was very inflammatory,” said Hook. “Along with a lot of other people we contacted the administration to find out what was going on. They clearly realized what had gone wrong and refiled a brief which removed the language and said that the president opposed the law, even though the Justice Department had the obligation to defend it.”
That amended August court filing stated that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act discriminates against gays, but that the government will continue to uphold the law as long as it is on the books.
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has been threading the political needle. His administration extended some benefits to the partners of federal employees, but not health insurance or pension benefits, for example.
“As always, it’s one step forward and one step back, but we’ll take each step forward,” said Tess Smith, who came in from Pittsburgh for the march, which began at McPherson Square, passed by the White House and continued past the Main Justice building on Pennsylvania Avenue before ending at the Capitol.
Mukasey’s 2008 order that DOJ Pride should have the same rights as other employee organizations came after discrimination questions flared in the 2006 U.S. Attorney firings scandal.
Margaret Chiara, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, claimed she was targeted for dismissal because of false rumors that she was having a homosexual relationship with a subordinate. Chiara told DOJ Inspector General investigators the rumors of her improper relationship with an Assistant U.S. Attorney were spread by two attorneys in her office who’d been detailed to jobs at Main Justice in Washington.
However, the IG concluded that Chiara was removed for poor management skills.
Main Justice caught up with several marchers outside of the Justice Department building last Sunday. Here’s what they had to say about the Obama administration:
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