News that the Trump administration is planning to launch a global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality caught some by surprise this week ― and, from the looks of it, the president may have been one of them.
NBC’s Josh Lederman outlined the State Department’s campaign in a bombshell report Tuesday. Citing U.S. officials, Lederman reported that the effort targets countries where it is still illegal to be gay and is a response to the recent hanging of a gay man in Iran.
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who is gay, will lead the effort aimed at pushing the 71 countries ― including many in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean ― that still outlaw homosexuality toward decriminalization.
President Donald Trump, however, appeared to be unfamiliar with the reported plan ― or at least reluctant to divulge details ― when he was asked about it at the White House Wednesday.
“I don’t know which report you’re talking about,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who’s visiting the United States. “We have many reports.”
Trump’s curt response didn’t faze many media professionals, who had already been viewing the plan with some skepticism. Others, like Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, suggested the president was aware of the campaign but didn’t want to alienate his conservative base.
Though officials did not reveal much about the plan, the NBC report says it will include strategic alliances with the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, as well as U.S. Mission to the E.U., will also play a role.
Many LGBTQ advocacy groups have been questioning the reported global plan given the president’s efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights domestically.
Since taking office, Trump has attempted to ban transgender recruits from the U.S. military and rolled back protections for trans students. The White House, meanwhile, also failed to acknowledge June as LGBTQ Pride Month both in 2017 and 2018.
Grenell, however, called the plan “a bipartisan push” in a follow-up interview with NBC published Wednesday.
“People understand — religious people, individuals who may not always be in the LGBTI fight — they understand that criminalizing homosexuality is absolutely wrong,” he said. “It is unbelievable to believe that in today’s world a 32-year-old man in Iran can be hanged simply for being gay. That’s unacceptable.”