(CNSNews.com) - Under pressure from homosexual activist groups and at least two Democratic senators, Attorney General John Ashcroft apparently reversed a decision not to allow U.S. Department of Justice employees to stage events marking "Gay Pride Month" at agency headquarters.
Employees may hold "gay pride" events at the agency this year, but they will not be officially sponsored by the department, an official said.
The change has left both liberals and conservatives giving some credit to Ashcroft but also expressing concerns that the policy still needs revision.
Members of DOJ Pride, a homosexual advocacy group within the agency, said the department denied the group permission to hold an event on June 18 at the agency. This was the first refusal of a federal agency to host a "Gay Pride Month" event, they said.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, denied the agency had reversed its position. The confusion was the result of a "miscommunication" between the agency and the group, he said.
"The group was not told that they couldn't hold the event. Any properly constituted employee association can request the use of the facilities for their groups' events," Corallo said.
"However, the government is not obliged to sponsor nor pay for these events. As it turns out, DOJ Pride was the only employee association that had received sponsorship from the department over the last two years," he said.
The decision to allow "gay pride" events at the agency is drawing fire from family policy groups. Concerned Women for America said the government should not get involved with "gay pride business."
"We're happy that Attorney General Ashcroft is moving in the right direction, and at least the Department of Justice is not officially endorsing this gay pride event," said Peter LaBarbera, a senior policy analyst at CWA's Culture and Family Institute.
"We wish they'd adhered to what was originally reported, that there would be no event at all, but at least it's not endorsed like it was last year," he said.
LaBarbera added that it's not something taxpayers should be funding because most taxpayers probably disagree with the idea of celebrating homosexuality.
Homosexual advocacy groups cautiously welcomed the decision.
"We're pleased that the Department of Justice has lived up to the commitment made by John Ashcroft during his Senate testimony that he would allow gay and lesbian employees to be treated equally, and we hope they take an extra step and offer them the same exact treatment as the other employee associations in regard to sponsorship of the event," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.
Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement, she welcomed "that the DOJ has reversed their decision of the all-out ban on the on-site gay pride event.
"However, the new policy is still a step backward as DOJ Pride is being treated differently than it was in the past, and unequally from other agency groups who have the full sponsorship of the department. This policy marginalizes the department's GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] employees," she said.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said Tuesday he would ask for hearings on what he called possible violations of Department of Justice employees' civil rights.
In a June 10 letter to Ashcroft, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) said he was concerned about the department refusing DOJ Pride the use of its facilities.
"Congress and the American people expect the attorney general to ensure equal treatment and equal protection for all Americans. I urge you to reverse the department's decision immediately and allow DOJ Pride to use department facilities to hold meetings and events," Feingold said.
DOJ Pride had planned a ceremony for next Wednesday in the department's main auditorium to honor two lawyers who specialize in legal issues relating to homosexuality.
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