Metro Weekly

Senators demand answers from State Department on decision barring embassies from flying Pride flags

Senators say refusal to acknowledge Pride month calls into question U.S. commitment to LGBTQ rights abroad

Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr

Eighteen U.S. senators have written to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo objecting to the Trump administration’s ban on embassies flying Pride flags during Pride month.

The letter, circulated by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questions the State Department’s policy allowing the flag to be hung or flown elsewhere on embassy property, but not on embassy flagpoles.

The embassies of Germany, Brazil, Israel, and Latvia previously asked the State Department if they could fly the flag on their flagpoles to commemorate Pride month — as had been allowed under former President Barack Obama’s administration — but their requests were rejected.

“The Department’s position on the display of the Pride flag is not the sole concern of supporters of LGBTI rights,” the Senators’ letter reads.

It notes that the Trump administration has made no public statement recognizing June as Pride month beyond a tweet from President Trump.

The State Department also reportedly neglected to issue a similar cable to its missions as it did last year, which “strongly encouraged” them to “advance LGTBI human rights policy objectives” and gave advice on celebrating Pride.

“Additionally, the Department’s LGBTI Special Envoy position remains vacant, with no indication that the Department intends to fill it in the near future,” the letter adds.

“If these reports are true, the Trump administration is sending a powerfully negative message to the rest of the world about the U.S. commitment to LGBTI rights,” the letter continues, noting that the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report indicated that anti-LGBTQ violence and discrimination remained widespread around the world in 2018 — citing, as examples of this violence, extrajudicial killings in Chechnya, the criminalization of same-sex relationships in more than 60 countries, hate crime murders in Mexico and Brazil, and recently introduced provisions in Brunei’s penal code prescribing death penalty as the punishment for same-sex relations.

Other senators signing the letter include: Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

The letter asks the Pompeo to answer questions about the decision barring embassies from flying Pride flags, not issuing a public statement for Pride Month, not sending out a cable detailing options for celebrating Pride Month, and plans to fill the LGBTI Special Envoy position. The senators asked the State Department to respond by June 28.

“This community requires our moral leadership and support,” the letter concludes. “But preventing the official flying of rainbow flags and limited public messages celebrating Pride Month signals to the international community that the United States is abandoning the advancement of LGBTI rights as a foreign policy priority.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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