Ashcroft Squelches Gay Pride Event

This year, there will be no pride in the federal Department of Justice.

That statement is both figurative and literal.

I have felt queasy ever since former Missouri senator and right-wing favorite John Ashcroft was appointed U.S. Attorney General. As suspected, his actions in office haven't helped calm any of my fears. Instead, they've only reinforced my worst suspicions.

The latest blow comes now during Gay Pride Month, where Ashcroft's Department of Justice has taken the highly unusual step this year of blocking an annual gay pride event by DOJ employees. A group called DOJ Pride, made up of several hundred gay and lesbian employees at the Department of Justice, has held, for the last six years, an annual gay pride event on DOJ premises. This year, the group had earmarked $600 to hold a June 18 awards ceremony in the DOJ's Great Hall, as a way to mark Gay Pride Month.

DOJ Pride has been holding a similar event on department grounds for the past six years. In fact, last year, Deputy Attorney Larry Thompson -- the second-highest official at the DOJ aside from Ashcroft himself -- spoke to the crowd.

But this year, the event will not be permitted. It's the first time ever that a federal agency has forced a gay pride event to be cancelled. The official reason for barring the event, Justice Department spokespeople have told the press, is that there is a new policy prohibiting events not recognized by a White House proclamation. While President Bush has issued hundreds of presidential proclamations -- including recognizing such obscure celebrations as Leif Erikson Day -- he has refused to recognize Gay Pride Month.

Bush's flaks claim the president doesn't believe in discriminating against gays and lesbians. "The president believes everybody ought to be treated with dignity and respect," White House spokesman Scott McClellan was quoted as saying in The New York Times. "But he does not believe we should be politicizing people's sexual orientation."

Oh really? That's funny, because this move is clearly a political one by both the president and Ashcroft, aimed at appeasing the conservative right-wing of the Republican Party at the expense of gay and lesbian federal employees. Right-wingers have for years been lobbying to halt gay pride events being held by federal employees on federal government property. "There's a political calculation going on here," Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal Globe, a gay and lesbian association of federal employees, told the Times. "They [Bush and Ashcroft] figure they gain more with the conservative right than they lose by discriminating against gays."

Despite Republican apologists within the gay and lesbian community, it should come as no surprise that the Bush administration, particularly through John Ashcroft, is acting in such an anti-gay fashion. As a hardcore right-wing Republican senator from Missouri, Ashcroft had a dismal voting record on gay and lesbian issues. He was openly, some would even say loudly, opposed to any kind of laws or measures to help protect gay and lesbian people from just the kind of discrimination he is practicing now.

This issue did come up during his confirmation hearing -- seeing as he would be the nation's leader in fighting for civil rights. When he was asked point blank about protecting gays and lesbians, a group he had a long history of opposition to, Ashcroft swore he had "no intent to treat this group differently than any other."

He lied.

Of course, the issue here is much larger than the cancellation of one gay pride party. What is really troubling is the clear message this sends to both gay and lesbian federal employees, and to gays and lesbians across the country. And the message is not just coming from Ashcroft and the Department of Justice, but from the Bush administration at large.

This move signals to gay and lesbian federal employees -- at any agency -- that they are not safe, that they may well be discriminated against, that they cannot count on their agencies and the president to protect them on their jobs.

Furthermore, it says quite loudly and bluntly to the rest of us that the very man in charge of upholding our civil rights as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people will be quicker to throw a bone to right-wingers than to uphold the values of protecting those who may be discriminated against.

Freelance writer Mubarak Dahir receives e-mail at MubarakDah@aol.com

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