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Gay employees say DOJ blocking 'pride' event

Justice spokeswoman calls it 'internal matter'

From Kelli Arena and Carol Cratty
CNN Washington Bureau

Attorney General John Ashcroft, seen at a recent congressional hearing.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, seen at a recent congressional hearing.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Gay and lesbian employees at the Justice Department said Friday that officials have told them they will not be permitted to hold a gay pride event later this month.

Justice Department spokesman Barbara Comstock declined to comment, saying that the issue is an "internal matter."

The president of DOJ Pride, a group of gay and lesbian Justice Department workers, said members are upset by the decision.

"We want this decision to be reversed. We simply want equal treatment with other employee association groups," said the group's president, Marina Colby.

Colby said she was informed May 31 that the event, set for June 18, could not go forward. She said she took part in a conference call this week with Justice Department officials in which she was told the group could not hold the event because Gay Pride Month, which is June, has not been recognized with a formal proclamation from President Bush.

She said her group would like to meet directly with someone from the attorney general's office to discuss the matter.

Greg Friel, another member of DOJ Pride, said the department is trying to send a message. "I think they are sending us a signal they want us to go back into the closet, quite frankly," Friel said.

Friel said that some conservative groups criticized the Justice Department for holding a gay pride event last year. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson spoke at that event. Friel said there has been some form of commemoration of gay pride at the Justice Department yearly since 1997.

Gay Pride Month is not recognized uniformly across government agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency held a gay pride event Wednesday. The State Department has one scheduled for later in the month.

However, a member of a gay employees organization at the Commerce Department said his group was informed last year that the department would no longer sponsor or participate in such events. He said gay employees can still use Commerce Department facilities for meetings.

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