The Trump administration’s heavily touted campaign to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide has been branded a “sham” with “no major breakthroughs” since its announcement last year.
Launched by former Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, and held up as an example of Trump’s supposed pro-LGBTQ stance by gay conservatives, the campaign purported to use the United States’ global influence to push countries to remove any laws that criminalized same-sex sexual relations.
But multiple LGBTQ organizations and human rights activists have told The Daily Beast that the campaign is “smoke and mirrors” with zero visible accomplishments.
The campaign was launched with much fanfare by Grenell in February last year, who told NBC News at the time that it was “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.”
But the launch was undermined just days later when Donald Trump seemed unaware of the campaign during questions with reporters in the Oval Office.
In the 18 months since then, the only major development was Trump referencing the campaign during a speech at the United Nations, when he briefly mentioned it and said the U.S. stands “in solidarity” with people targeted for their sexual orientation.
But LGBTQ activists say that, after 18 months talking about the campaign, the Trump administration has nothing to show for it.
Julie Dorf, a senior adviser at the Council for Global Equality, told The Daily Beast that the campaign was a “sham” and merely “a series of self-promoting Twitter photos.”
Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, said she was “not aware of any major breakthroughs from Ric Grenell’s campaign to decriminalize homosexuality.”
“This is window dressing held up as a major accomplishment by Ric Grenell, with no actual credible victory,” Luke Acosta, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said.
Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights program, went further, calling the campaign “smoke and mirrors,” and arguing that the Trump administration was using it to distract from its anti-LGBTQ domestic record.
“The reality is that the Trump administration has consistently undermined LGBT+ rights domestically and internationally, and the campaign is being used to distract people from that,” Reid said.
Reid added that the U.S. had “opposed criminalization long before President Trump took office” and that “saying people shouldn’t be imprisoned for being LGBT is the bare minimum of what the U.S. should be doing, not a bold endeavor.”
Since announcing the campaign 18 months ago, only two countries — Botswana and Gabon — have legalized homosexuality. Botswana’s change came after activists used the courts to strike down the country’s longstanding ban on same-sex relations.
Gabon achieved decriminalization with the support of elected officials, but Acosta noted that there was no obvious involvement from either Grenell or the Trump administration.
Earlier this year, Grenell — then-acting Director of National Intelligence — said that the campaign had Trump’s “total support” and that the U.S. might stop sharing intelligence with countries that criminalize homosexuality.
Critics argued that such a stance could threaten national security by alienating allies with anti-LGBTQ laws, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Malaysia.
But Grenell told the New York Times that the fight for decriminalization was a fight for “basic human rights,” adding, “We have the president’s total support. This is an American value, and this is United States policy.”
Grenell again touted the plan during this week’s Republican National Convention, calling it a “historic campaign,” and last week gay conservative group Log Cabin Republicans held the decriminalization campaign up as reason why gay people should consider voting for Trump in November.
Robert Kabel, chairman of Log Cabin Republicans, said that the decriminalization campaign was proof that Trump’s administration had been a “boon to the gay community,” and also called the Republican Party the “true party of equality.”
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