June 19, 2018 at 9:09 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Justice Department set to host annual LGBT Pride event on June 26

Sessions, Title IX, gay news, Washington Blade

The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is set to host a Pride event on June 26. (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Department of Justice is set to host an event recognizing Pride month and LGBT employees on June 26, the Washington Blade has learned.

A spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday to the Blade the event is set to take place on that date in the Justice Department’s Great Hall per the annual tradition for DOJ Pride, the LGBT affinity group for Justice Department employees.

It’s unclear whether U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will make an appearance, although that seems unlikely. The Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on whether Sessions — who has been criticized for his LGBT record as a U.S. senator and rollback of LGBT rights as attorney general — will attend.

Whether the Pride event would take place this year was in question. The Blade had made repeated requests for weeks with the Justice Department beginning in May seeking confirmation it would continue the annual tradition.

Last year, Sessions revoked Obama-era guidance instructing schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. Sessions also rescinded an Obama-era memo interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit anti-trans discrimination in the workplace and issued “religious freedom” guidance seen to enable antiL-LGBT discrimination.

Under his leadership, the Justice Department asserted before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case a First Amendment right for bakers to refuse to serve custom-made wedding cakes to same-sex couples. The department also sent a lawyer to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals to argue Title VII doesn’t cover anti-gay discrimination.

The Pride event at the Justice Department takes place as the Trump administration is under fire for a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which is seen as responsible for family separation of migrants at the border. President Trump has falsely blamed the law and Democrats for the policy and called on Congress to act.

In years past, the sitting U.S. attorney general has made an appearance at DOJ Pride to the address the Justice Department’s LGBT employees and recognize Pride month. Former U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch spoke at the event, as well as the Bush administration’s Michael Mukasey.

The tradition of holding an annual Pride event in the Justice Department’s Great Hall started during the Clinton administration. But DOJ Pride was unable to host the event in the Great Hall under U.S. Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, which forced employees at recognize Pride at informal, small receptions. That policy was reversed under Mukasey, who allowed the event to take place once more in the Great Hall.

It’ll be the second time during the Trump administration the event will take place. Last year, transgender student Gavin Grimm was honored with an award, even though his landmark case seeking a right to use his high school bathroom consistent with his gender identity was by recently dropped by the Supreme Court as result of Sessions rescinding the Obama-era bathroom guidance.

Also honored were attorneys with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division who spearheaded litigation under Lynch against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT House Bill 2.

Sessions didn’t attend the event. Representing the Justice Department was then-acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente, an Obama administration hold-over who also serves as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The Washington Blade sought to cover the DOJ Pride last year as it had in the past, but was ejected from the event by public affairs officials on the basis that the Great Hall are ineligible for press coverage without the presence of a senior DOJ principal.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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