William Barr, U.S. Attorney General, said he was ordering Justice Department offices to investigate possible discrimination targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees following an internal gay affinity group complained of low morale.
In a letter to the DOJ dated April 4th, Barr said he was “troubled” by the group’s concern, and was directing the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to “investigate and address allegations of discrimination.” Barr also released a formal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement declaring that no department employee or applicant should face discrimination over race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation.
“Issuing the statement is not only required by law … it is the right thing to do,” Barr wrote.
Barr’s response to the department’s gay rights group differed a great deal from that of his predecessor Jeff Sessions, who actively took steps to undermine civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people.
Sessions in October of 2017, for instance, sent a memo to federal prosecutors declaring that Title VII of the 10964 Civil Rights Act did not protect workers from gender identity discrimination. The department under Sessions’ leadership also reversed legal positions taken during the Obama administration on gay rights, including one case where it appeared before a federal appeals court in Manhattan to argue that Title VII does not provide protections to gay and lesbian workers.
DOJ Pride said in a March letter to Barr, that in recent years the department has suffered low morale thus hurting its ability to retain and recruit new LGBTQ talent. The group said Sessions had declined to ever issue an EEO statement reiterating the federal government’s stance against discrimination, despite requests to do so.
An October 2018 survey revealed to the group that gay lesbian and transgender employees felt the workplace environment was “no longer the welcoming, inclusive environment that it used to be.” Of all the respondents in the survey, only 31 percent said they believed the Justice Department valued LGBT employees.
In particular, the survey identified concerns inside both the FBI and BOP – the two largest components of the Justice Department. It also uncovered repeated criticism within the FBI Academy, the agency’s law enforcement training and research center, over how gay people are evaluated and treated.
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