Ashcroft criticized after gay speech

Friday, June 21, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Two conservative groups assailed Attorney General John Ashcroft on Thursday for allowing his top deputy to speak to a group of Justice Department employees that advocates gay, lesbian and bisexual rights.

Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson spoke briefly at the meeting Wednesday night in the department's Great Hall, where most formal events are held. The group, named DOJ Pride, gave awards to career employees who have contributed to fair treatment for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Also honored was a Washington police officer who works with gays and lesbians.

A DOJ Pride official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group was asked by the Justice Department not to present Thompson with a framed program of the event. Ashcroft declined an invitation to attend.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the matter.

Thompson didn't specifically mention discrimination against the gay community, limiting his comments mostly to efforts to stop terrorism.

Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, said her organization felt betrayed after fighting vigorously for Ashcroft's confirmation.

"It won't matter if we dismantle terrorism if we implode from within," said Rios, whose Washington-based lobbying group has 500,000 members. "The presence of a top aide to the attorney general at an event celebrating 'gay pride' is a clear endorsement of homosexuality."

Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, also challenged the administration for allowing the celebration. Knight's conservative group, also based in Washington, studies family issues.

"After all the work we did to stand up to the liberal mudslinging during Ashcroft's confirmation fight, this is what we get?" Knight said. "Does he have any idea what's going on in his own department? Just because he is fighting terrorist threats is no excuse to allow an officially sanctioned celebration by his department of immoral, unhealthy behavior that is illegal in nearly 20 states."

Some members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual group were also dissatisfied with Thompson's appearance.

DOJ Pride board member Mark Hegedus said the group was divided between happiness that the administration allowed a representative to speak, and disappointment that Thompson didn't focus on gay and lesbian issues.

"He could have given that speech to a bunch of tourists," Hegedus said.

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