US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell is spearheading a global campaign by the Trump administration to end the criminalization of homosexuality in dozens of nations where it is illegal to be gay, according to NBC News. News of the effort - which has reportedly been in the works for some time, comes after Iran made headlines for executing a gay man.
Grenell - America's highest-profile openly gay official and favorite among Trump's base to replace Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador, is kicking off the effort Tuesday evening in Berlin - as the U.S. embassy is flying in European LGBT activists for a strategy dinner during which they will discuss efforts to decriminalize homosexuality. The campaign will be "mostly concentrated in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean," writes NBC, which notes that the effort began before the UN job opened up.
"It is concerning that, in the 21st century, some 70 countries continue to have laws that criminalize LGBTI status or conduct," said a US official involved in organizing the event.
Although the decriminalization strategy is still being hashed out, officials say it’s likely to include working with global organizations like the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as other countries whose laws already allow for gay rights. Other U.S. embassies and diplomatic posts throughout Europe, including the U.S. Mission to the E.U., are involved, as is the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Narrowly focused on criminalization, rather than broader LGBT issues like same-sex marriage, the campaign was conceived partly in response to the recent reported execution by hanging of a young gay man in Iran, the Trump administration’s top geopolitical foe. -NBC News
Grenell has been an outspoken critic of Iran, which executed a 31-year-old man who Iranian state-sponsored news agencies say kidnapped two 15-year-olds. The Islamic Republic also executed a 16-year-old student in 2016 for what Amnesty International says was consensual gay sex.
Speaking with Germany's Bild earlier this month, Grenell wrote "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. 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."
Did the Obama / Biden admin do anything about this? No, they didn’t. They supported regimes that execute gay people for being gay. The Trump admin is taking action. Go hide your face in shame — where it belongs. #clown https://t.co/eJIojwyxSZ— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) February 19, 2019
The Trump administration's new effort is likely to cause tensions with close US allies with anti-gay legislation such as Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy Trump has staunchly defended in the face of human rights allegations, homosexuality can be punishable by death, according to a 2017 worldwide report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). The report identified 72 nations that still criminalize homosexuality, including eight where it’s punishable by death.
That list includes the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Afghanistan — all U.S. allies — although those countries aren’t known to have implemented the death penalty for same-sex acts. In Egypt, whose leader Trump has effusively praised, homosexual relations aren’t technically illegal but other morality laws are used aggressively to target LGBT people. -NBC News
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reportedly supporting the work by US embassies and consulates to fight for the rights of LGBT people, saying during his confirmation hearing "I deeply believe that LGBTQ persons have every right that every other person in the world would have."
Grenell discussed the global campaign over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference with a bipartisan congressional delegation which included Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.; and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.
"While a student at Evangel University, a Christian liberal arts college in Missouri, I was taught by biblical scholars that all truth is God’s truth, no matter where it is found. The truth for LGBT people is that we were born gay," wrote Grenell in Bild. "People can disagree philosophically about homosexuality, but no person should ever be subject to criminal penalties because they are gay."