At an event in the Great Hall Monday honoring the contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is working to “[live] up to its responsibility to provide a work environment where every employee is respected and given an equal opportunity to thrive.”
Holder also pointed to the Obama administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues including the new federal hate crimes law — the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act that the president signed into law in October — and the Justice Department’s recent decision that the Violence Against Women Act covers same-sex partners.
“We have much to celebrate today. In the year since we last gathered, our nation – and the Justice Department – have taken steps to address some of the unique challenges faced by members of our country’s LGBT community,” said Holder in remarks at the annual DOJ LGBT Pride Month event.
DOJ Pride was founded in 1994, and flourished when Janet Reno was Attorney General. Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales later banned the group from using Justice Department facilities. Attorney General Michael Mukasey welcomed DOJ Pride back to the Great Hall in 2008, and DOJ Pride President Chris Hook said the event has grown in size since the Obama administration took over in January 2009.
During his remarks, Holder also touted the DOJ’s new Diversity Management Plan — which calls for greater diversity in such areas as hiring, promotions and retention — and the appointment of former acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips to manage the implementation of the plan as Deputy Associate Attorney General for Diversity.
“With this initiative, and with Channing’s leadership, we’re working to ensure that the department can effectively recruit, hire, retain, and develop a workforce that reflects our nation’s rich diversity, a department that welcomes and encourages the contributions of its LGBT employees,” Holder said.
Holder did not address some of the controversies that LGBT advocates have raised with the Department of Justice, such as the DOJ’s defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez introduced the keynote speaker, U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan, the first openly gay federal prosecutor to head a U.S Attorney’s office.
“What a difference two years makes,” Durkan said. “Today I stand before you as the first openly gay U.S. Attorney. But I can promise you I’m not the last. In fact, today there are three Senate confirmed openly gay U.S. Attorneys in America.
“Two followed me. I started a trend. But I do want to point out, they’re all women. So guys, you need to step it up,” Durkan joked.
She also praised Holder’s work on the LGBT issues, saying that “there is nobody more committed to equality and justice across America than our Attorney General Eric Holder.”
Sharon Lubinski, the first openly gay U.S. Marshal, also spoke at the ceremony and was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Officials in attendance at the event included Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West; Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno of the Environment and Natural Resources Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten; U.S. Attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones; U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman; and Chris Dudley, Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
DOJ Pride also gave out three awards, including to two local advocates for same-sex marriage. D.C. Councilmember David A. Catania, the force behind the law that made same-sex marriage legal in the District of Columbia, received the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award along with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Gansler was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia under then-U.S. Attorney Holder.
Hook received the James R. Douglass Award for his leadership of DOJ Pride. He took over in 2006, when the group had shrank dramatically during the Bush administration, but it has since grown back to the size it was during the Clinton administration.
Hook made it clear when he took over the organization in 2006 that DOJ Pride “did not intend to go into hiding,” said Marc Salans, Assistant Director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, who presented the award.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Justice, the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity staff and DOJ Pride.