On Wednesday, Ambassador Richard Grenell, America’s envoy to Germany, hosted 11 activists from countries across Europe at the US Embassy in Berlin to strategize about how to combat the criminalization of LGBTI status or conduct around the globe.
Grenell, the driving force behind the decriminalization effort, acknowledged that achieving this goal will not be easy but emphasized the US ability to be a leader in the mission.
The coalition seeks to involve the EU, NATO, the Vatican and other organizations to approach this problem in a systematic way. This renewed leadership on human rights by the Trump administration, which was publicly endorsed by Vice President Pence, will better help correctly frame the war on terror as a human rights issue in light of Iran’s recent execution of a gay man. President Trump has rightly been a staunch critic of Iran for its support of radical terrorism throughout the Middle East (including its anti-Semitic animus), and this new effort spearheaded by Grenell will additionally help hold accountable more than 70 countries, mostly concentrated in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean, that continue to criminalize homosexuality.
The president has come under fire for his relationship with our allies. But this breakthrough gathering shows that the Trump administration is, in fact, channeling Abraham Lincoln’s advice to “Stand with anyone that is right; stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.”
When our NATO allies believe they can continue to freeload off the American taxpayer, President Trump rightly calls them out for failing to meet their financial commitments in defense spending for joint security. When they wish to preserve basic human dignity for LGBTI people, we proudly link arms and stand in solidarity.
This additional push with our allies to call for human rights through an LGBTI lens confirms what Trump supporters already know: That our leaders under President Trump are bold, unabashed supporters of the individual rights, freedom and personal autonomy that undergird America’s founding principles.
While Grenell’s gathering is making news headlines, it’s important to note that the Trump administration, along with other past presidents and many Democrats as well, has previously expressed support for decriminalizing homosexuality around the globe.
“Around the world, far too many governments continue to arrest and abuse their citizens simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI),” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last year on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. “The United States firmly opposes criminalization, violence and serious acts of discrimination such as in housing, employment and government services, directed against LGBTI persons. We use public and private diplomacy to raise human rights concerns, provide emergency assistance to people at risk, and impose visa restrictions and economic sanctions against those who persecute them.”
In 2016, President Trump was the first Republican nominee in American history to discuss LGBT rights in an acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. That gathering also provided a platform for tech billionaire Peter Thiel to acknowledge his sexuality in a speech to the GOP convention, where he said he was “proud to be gay.” Thiel was the first GOP convention speaker to cite his or her sexual orientation — and Thiel was cheered for doing so.
The Trump administration came under fire last year for revoking same-sex domestic partner visas for foreign diplomats and employees of international organizations, yet the State Department has not issued the same family visas to heterosexual domestic partners since 2009. And the New York Times reported that “If necessary, the State Department officials said, legal workarounds could be discussed on a case-by-case basis for couples who are barred from marrying in their home countries.”
Critics of a decision by the Trump administration to allow some faith-based organizations to deny gay adoptions on religious grounds should note that the decision does not blanketly ban gay adoption. Observers have pointed out that the circumstances of this situation are similar to the 7-2 Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who, because of his faith, declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. The high court warned against “hostility” toward people practicing their faith.
I personally believe bakers serving the general public should serve gay weddings and disagree with the Trump administration on this adoption policy. Yet I also see that debating these issues in light of our Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty is the mark of a pluralistic society — the type not seen in nations that criminalize homosexuality.
Even though some conservatives oppose legalized gay marriage ( President Trump has said he is “fine” with same-sex marriage and considers the issue “settled” law) and LGBTI activists oppose the administration’s position against trans members serving the military, the issue of global decriminalization should be an area where debates over those issues should be set aside and all sides can work together.
Heartbreaking stories of LGBTI persecution around the world pour in far too often, and we must be vigilant about ending the anger and hate fueling these attacks. This week’s European gathering is a positive step in stemming that tide.