Two Cheers for the Trump Administration's New Global Initiative Against the Criminalization of Homosexuality

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Posted: Feb 21, 2019 10:20 AM
Two Cheers for the Trump Administration's New Global Initiative Against the Criminalization of Homosexuality

Source: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Earlier this week, NBC News reported that the Trump administration has embarked upon a new global human rights effort to eradicate laws that criminalize homosexuality.  The project is being spearheaded by the US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who made history last spring by becoming the highest-ranking openly LGBT official ever to serve in a Republican administration (disclosure: Ric's a friend).  This is excellent news:  

The U.S. embassy is flying in LGBT activists from across Europe for a strategy dinner to plan to push for decriminalization in places that still outlaw homosexuality — mostly concentrated in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. “It is concerning that, in the 21st century, some 70 countries continue to have laws that criminalize LGBTI status or conduct,” said a U.S. 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.

Iran is an egregious violator on this front, routinely putting young people to death for alleged homosexuality. This initiative is, of course, partially aimed at Iran, but similar abuses permeate the region, including in a number of Arab gulf states with whom the US is enjoying a renaissance in international relations.  To be morally clear and consistent on this issue, American diplomats will need to call out and pressure foes and friends alike.  Incidentally, for any inquiring or machiavellian political minds, NBC's story notes that this push was already being planned before Grenell was said to be under consideration to replace Amb. Nikki Haley at the United Nations, following the withdrawal of former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.  In an op/ed Grenell penned for a German newspaper, he sought to rally the world behind a common cause:

Grenell...pointed out that India, Belize, Angola, and Trinidad and Tobago recently decriminalized same-sex conduct among consenting adults. But he said “reasonable people” must keep speaking out about laws in other places, including Iran and Chechnya, the Russian region where authorities have cracked down violently on gay people in recent years. “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,” Grenell wrote. “People can disagree philosophically about homosexuality, but no person should ever be subject to criminal penalties because they are gay.”

Here in America, much of our public policy debate on these issues is centered around the balance between religious liberty and LGBT rights, including some thorny questions surrounding transgender individuals. Nearly everyone within the LGBT/allies community agrees that more work regarding rights and non-discrimination protections must still be done, but it's also important to celebrate the major progress we've witnessed in short order -- all without losing sight of the sobering reality that LGBT people still face criminal sanctions, or even death, in dozens of nations. While we have our passionate debates about competing constitutional rights and the proper bounds of a pluralistic society, at the very least, we should be able to put differences aside and rally behind fundamental human rights for sexual minorities.  Sadly, some partisans in the LGBT activist community are contorting themselves into tangles, in order to criticize the Trump administration's project.  Here's the, ahem, Human Rights Campaign throwing shade on the plan:


This series tweets concludes by questioning whether this commitment is "real," mentioning unspecified doubts about "intentions."  They do allow that they're "eager to see what proof and action will follow."  If said proven action is applying pressure to end criminal sanctions for homosexuality around the world, will they at least pretend to be pleased?  Granted, I fully understand that many LGBT activists distrust the Republican Party and have objections to any number of policies pursued by the current administration.  Nobody is asking them to suddenly join the GOP, or abandon all skepticism and previous criticisms.  But part of (ostensibly) advocating on behalf of issues, rather than fixating on partisanship, involves recognizing opportunities for growth and progress wherever they exist -- and even forging strategic, cooperative partnerships with people who may be seen as imperfect allies.  

Working with the Trump administration, and marching alongside Grenell, to actively improve the lives and rights of LGBT people across the planet should be a no-brainer.  Again, linking arms in pursuit some goals doesn't require uneasy partners to to reverse or soft-pedal their stances or convictions on other questions.  But adopting an aggressively negative posture toward political opponents over what ought to be obvious and laudable common ground feels petty and counter-productive.  And then there's this madness:


The piece, published in an LGBT magazine, actually argues that it's somehow racist and imperialist for the Trump administration to actively oppose flagrant and destructive homophobia in other parts of the world.  It even downplays Iran's abysmal record of executing gays.  It's literally beyond parody.  In a recent New York Times magazine piece, I was quoted about an interesting and emerging dynamic among right-leaning LGBT people during the Trump era:

Many L.G.B.T. conservatives say they feel newly relevant and accepted in the Republican Party, which has long opposed L.G.B.T. rights. And, perhaps counterintuitive, some attribute this in part to Trump himself. “The narrative on the left tends to be that Trump is horrible for L.G.B.T. people in every way imaginable, but that’s not how many gays on the right see it,” Benson told me. “As a candidate, Trump signaled that L.G.B.T.-related culture wars are not ones the G.O.P. needs to be fighting anymore, and much of the base noticed. As flawed as Trump is, and despite some of his unfortunate policy moves on this front, he might actually represent a fulcrum point within the party on gay issues.”

This new initiative clearly falls on the good side of the ledger.  It's no secret that I've always been a Trump-skeptical conservative who was 'Never Trump' in 2016.  I strive to be intellectually honest and fair, which entails praising the administration when it's doing the right thing.  I have a number of agreements and disagreements with the administration's policies in this particular realm, but the only conceivably fair response to this week's anti-criminalization rollout is: Bravo.  It may be be a relatively narrow issue, but it's an important one, on which American leadership -- regardless of political party -- is needed and welcome.  I'll leave you with this: