With the Supreme Court preparing to deliver two landmark decisions on same-sex marriage, the Justice Department on Tuesday celebrated gay pride with speeches by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, the first openly gay member of the Senate, and singer-songwriter and lesbian activist Melissa Etheridge.
In what was billed as "A Year of Firsts" by the official website for LGBT employees at the Justice Department, Mr. Holder said the nation has made "great strides in overcoming the obstacles and biases that too often affect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals."
And nowhere was that clearer, he said, than in the work performed by the department's Civil Rights Division.
"Under the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act — which President Obama signed into law in 2009 — we've strengthened our ability to hold accountable those who commit acts of violence that are motivated by someone's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability — and to achieve justice on behalf of all who are victimized simply because of who they are, or who they love," Mr. Holder said.
"As part of an administration-wide commitment to stopping harassment, bullying and abusive behavior, we have partnered with a variety of agencies, including the Department of Education, to forge new alliances between educators, school administrators and anti-bullying advocates."
Mr. Holder said the department has called on specialists as well as law enforcement professionals to promote healthy educational environments and to lead by example in creating "an open and welcoming environment."
His comments came as the Supreme Court prepares to issue rulings on two landmark gay marriage cases — the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8, California's gay marriage ban.
Mr. Holder noted that through the department's internal Diversity Management Initiative he began in 2010, Justice is working to recruit, hire, develop, retain and support a "workforce that reflects the rich diversity of the nation we're privileged to serve."
"We're expanding programs for promoting fairness, equality and opportunity for every member of the DOJ family, which today includes an increasing number of openly gay and lesbian U.S. attorneys, senior department leaders, U.S. marshals and career employees," he said.
He said he also approved and expanded the department's equal employment opportunity policy two years ago to include for the first time explicit protections against gender identity-based discrimination. He said he also approved the establishment of a formal LGBT "Special Emphasis Program" to help provide the "opportunities, and instill the respect, that every public servant needs to develop, to grow and to thrive — both personally and professionally."
"Despite all that we've achieved in recent years, the road ahead — toward equality, opportunity and justice for every American, regardless of identity or orientation — still stretches beyond the horizon," he said.
Mr. Holder had high praise for the department's Civil Rights Division, which he said had convicted over the past two years more defendants on hate crimes charges in more than a decade.
He made no mention of a March report by the department's office of inspector general that said the division was rife with deep ideological divisions that had fueled disputes harmful to its operation and often evolved into the harassment of its employees and managers.
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz's 258-page report outlined concerns by voting rights section employees that attorneys could not pursue cases against black defendants for the benefit of white victims.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, said the report validated concerns he first raised in 2009 about the "politicization and inappropriate activities" within the civil rights division, including the dismissal of the New Black Panthers voter intimidation case.
"The division has become a rat's nest of unacceptable and unprofessional actions," Mr. Wolf said.
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