In a ceremony at the Department of Justice on Wednesday marking the 10th anniversary of a landmark anti-hate crime law, a speaker read off a letter that directly targeted Attorney General William Barr, accusing him of "hypocrisy" related to the department's stance on legal protections for transgender people.
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Appearing as a representative for the family of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was murdered in Wyoming in October 1998, Cynthia Deitle read a letter from the family excoriating Barr for not "disagreeing with the administration" and what they described as its promotion of hate. The law is named after Shepard and James Byrd, who also was murdered in a hate crime.
"We find it interesting and hypocritical that he would invite us to this event commemorating a hate crime law named after our son and Mr. Byrd, while, at the same time, asking the Supreme Court to allow the legalized firing of transgender employees," said Deitle, who serves as the programs and operations director of the foundation named after Shepard. "Mr. Barr, you cannot have it both ways. If you believe that employers should have the right to terminate transgender employees, just because they are transgender, then you believe they are lesser than and not worthy of protection."
Deitle continued: "If so, you need not invite us to future events at the Department of Justice that are billed as celebrating the law that protects these same individuals from hate crimes. Either you believe in equality for all or you don't. We do not honor our son by kowtowing to hypocrisy."
While Barr himself was not in attendance, sitting next to Deitle was Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division. He did not react to Deitle's comments.
Earlier in the program, Dreiband touted the department's handling of hate crimes cases, saying it remains a "top priority" for the administration.
"Since January 2017 alone, the Department of Justice has charged more than 70 defendants for committing crimes motivated by hate," Dreiband said.
In response to the letter, a Justice Department spokeswoman said it "mischaracterizes the department's position" related to protections for transgender people.
In a recent argument before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said the administration does not believe Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars sex-based employment discrimination, has a legal application to transgender people.
Deitle also criticized Barr in her remarks for not "disagreeing with the administration" and what she characterized as its promotion of "hate."
"As the head of the Department of Justice, he can take a stand as a member of this administration to disavow and condemn any person who fuels the fires of hate with their words and actions," Deitle said, reading from the letter. "He must lead and demonstrate his refusal to accept hate in all its manifestations. He must demonstrate courage, even if it means disagreeing with the administration. So far, he has done none of these deeds."
At the conclusion of Deitle's remarks, a large portion of the audience in the Justice Department's Great Hall offered a sustained round of applause, including some who stood up and cheered.