May 29, 2019 at 2:04 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Federal workers plan Pride celebrations, despite Trump’s anti-LGBT attacks
GLIFAA marches in the 2018 Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Amid continuing news of anti-LGBT attacks from the Trump administration, LGBT federal employees are still making plans to celebrate Pride in June with events at U.S. agencies, including celebrations at the Pentagon and the State Department.

In the face of President Trump’s recently implemented transgender military ban, DOD Pride is planning an event for LGBT service members and civilian employees June 12 in the Pentagon courtyard.

The official event is set to have as featured speakers Retired Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation; Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq war veteran; and LGBT activist Stuart Milk, the nephew of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

Rudy Coots, co-chair of DOD Pride, acknowledged the event will mark the eighth time the Pentagon has hosted an official event recognizing June as Pride month, which began after Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the Obama administration.

“We’re very excited to be hosting the 8th annual LGBT Pride Month event in the Pentagon on June 12 to honor the significant contributions LGBT service members and DoD civilians make every day to our national security,” Coots said.

Coots said DOD Pride was set to invite to the celebration all members of senior defense leadership, including Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. A Pentagon spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether Shanahan would attend.

Meanwhile, GLIFAA, the affinity group for LGBT foreign service officers, is set to co-host Monday at the State Department an official event to celebrate Pride, according to an invitation obtained by the Washington Blade. The event in the Dean Acheson Auditorium will be co-hosted by the State Department Office of Civil Rights and the Native American Foreign Affairs Council.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan is slated to give remarks. Delivering the keynote address will be Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), a lesbian and one of two House members who were the first female Native Americans elected to Congress.

Asked whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would attend, a State Department spokesperson said the secretary will be traveling. The date of the event is the same day Trump is set to attend a state dinner in London hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.

At the Education Department, LGBTQ & Allied Employees of ED is planning a series of events, according to an invitation obtained by the Blade.

Employees are planning to take part in an interagency community service night Monday at the D.C. Center, an interagency Pride social on June 6 at Shaw’s Tavern and the Capital Pride parade on June 8. An event called “Being LGBTQ+: A Panel Discussion and Q&A” is set to take place at the Education Department itself on June 11.

An Education Department spokesperson didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would attend any of the events, such as the LGBT panel. Under DeVos, the Education Department rolled back protections for transgender students and won’t take up complaints for kids being denied access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

A series of events related to Pride is also planned at the Department of Health & Human Services. The event will take place shortly after HHS announced it would institute a “conscience rule” for health workers to opt out of procedures to which they have religious objections, including gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, and reverse an Obama-era rule barring anti-transgender discrimination in health care.

An HHS spokesperson said HHS Headquarters Diversity & Inclusion Division will sponsor three activities for Pride: A video screening of “50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion” on June 12, a luncheon event called “Being An Ally To Special Emphasis Groups” on June 19, and a roundtable event on June 20 to discuss concerns of LGBT employees at HHS.

Asked by the Blade whether Secretary of Health & Human Services Alex Azar would attend any of the events, the HHS spokesperson deferred to the Twitter account at @SpoxHHS. Nothing was found there yet, although the account seems to announce the plans on a day-to-day basis.

A Justice Department spokesperson plans for the annual LGBT Pride Month Observance Program are currently being put together. Last year, an event recognizing Pride was held in late June, but away from the center of the Justice Department in the Great Hall for the first time in 11 years.

Carol Wilkerson, a Small Business Administration spokesperson, was vague about Pride events within her agency, but confirmed they’d happen.

“As with all special monthly observance activities, SBA’s Office of Diversity Inclusion and Civil Rights has plans underway to host an event for all SBA employees honoring LGBT Pride Month,” Wilkerson said.

A DHS official was similarly vague in response to an inquiry about plans at the Department of Homeland Security, but said plans were underway.

“DHS components are in the process of finalizing their plans for LGBT Pride Month,” the DHS official said. “The calendar will be available to employees early next month. Every year throughout the month of June, DHS components hold numerous events and programs for employees in observance of LGBT Pride Month.”

Susan Carter, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the department’s headquarters in Washington and VA medical centers across the country are “preparing a multitude of activities in recognition of LGBT Pride Month.”

“At VA headquarters in Washington, the theme is ‘Serving All Our Veterans…Past, Present, and Proud,’ which encompasses VA’s mission of serving Veterans and its commitment to supporting a diverse and inclusive workforce,” Carter said. “VA headquarters will host a panel discussion June 26 on issues and challenges affecting the LGBT community within VA and throughout the federal workforce.”

Federal workers at the Department of Housing & Urban Development, which under Secretary Ben Carson recently proposed a rule allowing homeless shelters to turn away transgender people, are also planning events.

Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesperson, identified two events in which HUD FedQ’s 2019 June Pride month will focus on personal stories of both LGBT youth and seniors dealing with access to housing and experiencing homelessness.

On June 13, HUD FedQ Pride will host a panel of experts who will speak on housing instability for LGBTQ persons, which will be followed by a discussion with LGBTQ youth who have experienced homelessness.

On June 25, HUD Pride month organizers are set to host an event highlight SAGECare, an organization that focuses on LGBT elders.

Neither the Treasury Department nor the Labor Department responded to the Blade’s request to comment on Pride events.

In years past during the Obama era, Cabinet-level officials, such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, would take part in Pride celebrations at federal agencies. President Obama would also hold an annual reception for LGBT leaders at the White House and issue a proclamation designating June as Pride month.

In contrast, President Trump declined to issue a Pride proclamation in each of his first two years in office. Eyes will be on Trump yet again this year to see if he’ll change course and recognize Pride. The White House didn’t respond to the Blade’s inquiries about whether Trump was planning a proclamation or reception.

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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