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At DOJ Pride Event, LGBT Employees Plan To Honor Lawyers, Student Behind Pro-Transgender Lawsuits

DOJ Pride — the Justice Department's group for LGBT employees and allies — plans to give its community service award to Gavin Grimm, the transgender student challenging his high school's bathroom policy, and its award for contributions to the environment for LGBT employees to department lawyers behind pro-transgender litigation.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind Obama-era guidance supporting the rights of transgender students is set to get a strong, if symbolic, rebuke from Sessions' own employees next week.

On the morning of June 28, the Justice Department is scheduled to hold its annual LGBT Pride Month Program in the Great Hall of the department's main building on Pennsylvania Avenue, in between the Capitol and the White House.

A notice about the program, obtained by BuzzFeed News, went out to employees on Tuesday. At the event, which was attended by former attorney general Loretta Lynch in 2016, the relevant work of the department is highlighted, a keynote speech is given, and awards are presented.

This year, DOJ Pride — the department's group for LGBT employees and their allies — plans to present Gavin Grimm with its Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award at the event, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Additionally, BuzzFeed News has learned, DOJ Pride plans to give the James R. Douglass Award — recognizing contributions to the work-life environment for LGBT employees of the department — to the litigation teams behind the department's pro-transgender lawsuits: a discrimination case brought against Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the challenge brought against North Carolina's anti-transgender HB2 "bathroom bill" law.

Grimm is the transgender student who is challenging his school's anti-transgender bathroom policy. Grimm's case had been before the Supreme Court and would have been heard earlier this year — had it not been for Sessions' decision to rescind the pro-transgender guidance. The justices had taken up the case in the fall, but sent it back to the appeals court for further consideration after Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded guidance issued by the Obama administration — delaying Grimm's challenge past his high school graduation date, which was June 10.

"Years after my battle for equality started, one thing remains the same: I’m still barred from using the boys’ restroom in my school," Grimm wrote this week about his experience. "Our opponents can’t stop justice; they can only delay it. The law is on our side.

"Even though I’m graduating without a resolution to my case, I know we’re going to win this fight."

DOJ Pride is the recognized employee association for LGBT people and allies who work in the Justice Department and all of its divisions. The group votes each year on who should receive the award. In 2016, the group gave the community service award to Shannon Minter, a transgender man and lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights who has been involved with significant LGBT litigation over the years.

Other prior recipients include Donald Verrilli Jr., the department's former solicitor general who argued in support of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, and Stuart Delery, who had argued against the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act once the Justice Department stopped defending the law in court challenges. Non-lawyers have also been recognized in the past. In 2013, for example, the group gave the community service award to Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens football player who became an outspoken advocate for marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Grimm is expected to attend the event, a person familiar with the plans told BuzzFeed News. Grimm's lawyer would not confirm his client's participation in the event, and attempts to reach DOJ Pride officers were unsuccessful. Justice Department spokespeople were not immediately able to provide comment on either the award decision, or on which members of Sessions' leadership team plan to attend the program.

Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

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