'It's difficult and demoralizing': LGBTQ employees at the Department of Justice are sounding off to Attorney General William Barr

lgbt washington dcParticipants carry a large rainbow flag towards the U.S. Capitol during a gay rights demonstration in Washington October 11, 2009.Reuters

  • DOJ Pride, an organization representing the Department of Justice's LGBTQ employees and contractors, are sounding the alarm about the "declining morale" of gay, lesbian, and transgender employees across the department.
  • The letter, sent to Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday, March 27, voices two major concerns.
  • They are worried about the lack of a DOJ-issued Equal Employment Opportunity statement, and the fact that in an October 2018 survey "only 31% of respondents agreed that 'the Department of Justice values its LGBTQ employees.'"
  • Barr was sworn in as attorney general on February 14, 2019, after former AG Jeff Sessions resigned and was briefly replaced by former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

DOJ Pride, an organization representing the Department of Justice's LGBTQ employees and contractors, is sounding the alarm about the "declining morale" of gay, lesbian, and transgender employees across the department.

In a letter sent to Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday, March 27, the organization voices two concerns: the lack of a DOJ-issued Equal Employment Opportunity statement, and the fact that in an October 2018 survey "only 31% of respondents agreed that 'the Department of Justice values its LGBTQ employees.'"

Barr was sworn in as attorney general on February 14, 2019, after former AG Jeff Sessions resigned and was briefly replaced by the former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

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Under Sessions, the department - that includes the Office of Inspector General, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Prisons, United States Marshals Service, and Office of Professional Responsibility - did not issue a EEO statement. The "EEO Policies, Plans, and Procedures" page on the DOJ website links to an EEO statement signed by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who served under President Barack Obama.

"The requirement to issue an EEO statement stems from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as implemented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Management Directive 715.1 MD-715 requires the heads of all federal agencies to issue 'a written policy statement expressing their commitment to [equal employment opportunity] and a workplace free of discriminatory harassment,' including discrimination on any protected basis," DOJ Pride said in their letter, which was reported on by BuzzFeed News.

The organization, which was founded in 1994, also states that new heads of the department are responsible for issuing an EEO statement and renewing it annually.

In 2017, during Sessions' tenure, the DOJ filed a brief inserting itself into a lawsuit where a gay man was suing a former employer, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation; they argued that the Civil Rights Act didn't cover "sexual orientation discrimination." In 2018, however, a federal appeals court ruled that the Civil Rights Act did extend to sexual orientation (and "sexual orientation" is listed on the US EEOC website for federal employees as a form of discrimination that employees are protected against).

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"Our members need to know whether the Department will continue to honor such protections with respect to its own employees, as applicable under binding EEOC precedent," DOJ Pride said in their letter.

DOJ Pride is also concerned about "declining morale," and it cited specific quotes from a survey of its members.

"It's difficult and demoralizing not knowing if your employer really believes LGBTQ people should have antidiscrimination protections (housing, employment, accommodations) or not," one respondent said.

Another said they were leaving the DOJ because of the "treatment of LGBTQ employees."

Several cited in the DOJ Pride letter mentioned alleged discrimination at specific agencies including the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"Please do something about the FBI's unfair evaluation process at the FBI Academy," one person wrote. "There are many gay agents attending that are dismissed because they are not 'bro-y' or masculine enough."

One respondent acknowledged that they "work at an institution that at times takes positions with which I personally disagree," but said that, from a management perspective, it would have been prudent to take "conciliatory actions with LGBTQ employees."

Fewer than 10% of respondents agreed that the DOJ attracted and retained the best LGBTQ talent. INSIDER contacted the DOJ for a response and to see if Barr planned on issuing a EEO statement.

In his confirmation hearing, Barr did say that anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be illegal, but took the position that it was not currently illegal under federal law.

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