LGBTQ advocates and activists were surprised today by the news that the Trump administration plans to launch a global campaign aimed at ending the criminalization of homosexuality in countries where it’s still illegal to be gay.
NBC News was first to report the effort, to be led by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, which was apparently sparked by reports of a 31-year-old man being executed via hanging in Iran on allegations of same-sex activity.
Iran has long been seen as a high-priority opponent for the Trump administration.
Grennell, who is openly gay, will reportedly host a ‘strategy dinner’ tonight in Berlin with the U.S. embassy flying in LGBTQ activists from several European countries.
The focus of the campaign will be concentrated in Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean.
An official involved in planning the event tonight told NBC News, “It is concerning that, in the 21st century, some 70 countries continue to have laws that criminalize LGBTI status or conduct.”
The initiative will not be a broad, LGBTQ civil rights campaign but a tightly focused message on criminalization.
It’s not apparent that the new initiative represents a change of heart towards the gay community by the Trump administration.
Grenell has been a longtime critic of Iran, and while the Trump White House has managed to implement increased penalties against Iran, European allies have been slow to join in. Some see shifting the conversation on Iran to issues of human rights violations as a way to encourage Europe to come to the table.
The ambassador penned an op-ed for German news outlet Bild last month, calling news of the hanging a “wake-up call for anyone who supports basic human rights.”
“This is not the first time the Iranian regime has put a gay man to death with the usual outrageous claims of prostitution, kidnapping, or even pedophilia,” wrote Grenell. “And it sadly won’t be the last time they do it either. Barbaric public executions are all too common in a country where consensual homosexual relationships are criminalized and punishable by flogging and death.”
It's notable that a global message denouncing the criminalization of homosexuality will also put the White House on a collision course with several close allies of the United States. Countries like Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Oman all have a history of targeting the LGBTQ community.
Saudi Arabia, which Donald Trump has shown great deference, currently has laws that make being gay punishable by death.
According to LGBTQ rights website Equaldex, there are currently 73 countries – primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – where homosexuality is illegal.
Since taking office, Donald Trump and his administration have attacked the LGBTQ community numerous times from attempting to discharge HIV+ soldiers and ban transgender military service members, to supporting laws that would allow legal discrimination against LGBTQ people, to fighting trans rights to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
The Human Rights Campaign keeps an up-to-date list of the many ways Trump has worked to undermine LGBTQ rights here.
Advocacy group GLAAD expressed its skepticism at the seemingly sudden change of heart towards LGBTQ people by the Trump administration tweeting, “We’d believe that the Trump administration will work to protect LGBTQ people around the world if they had not attacked LGBTQ people in the U.S. over 90 times since taking office.”
We’d believe that the Trump administration will work to protect LGBTQ people around the world if they had not attacked LGBTQ people in the U.S. over 90 times since taking office: https://t.co/3xlb2GI4zQ https://t.co/moNa7mG8TJ
— GLAAD (@glaad) February 19, 2019