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Holder leads celebration of gay rights in Justice Department ceremony

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer

Washington (CNN) -- A crowd of gay and lesbian Justice Department employees and their supporters enthusiastically cheered Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday as he vowed to strictly enforce a new federal law designed to protect them.

Holder told a crowd gathered in the Justice Department's ornate Great Hall that prosecutors will actively use the new law --the first in the 225-year history of the federal criminal code that refers explicitly to gender identity.

"The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which the president signed into law last October, finally protects our nation's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals from the most brutal forms of bias-motivated violence," Holder said.

Justice officials say the new law has not yet been used by federal prosecutors, but in several cases, it has enabled the Justice Department to provide resources to state and local prosecutors investigating hate crimes.

Featured speakers included Jenny Durkan of Seattle, the nation's first openly gay U.S. attorney, and Sharon Lubinski of Minneapolis, the nation's first openly gay U.S. marshal.

The Justice Department Gay Pride event is part of a government-wide recognition of LGBT employees, which includes a planned event Tuesday with President Obama.