The swearing in on Thursday of U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-ranking openly gay official in the Trump administration, by Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long anti-LGBT record, was a sight to behold.
As is customary for the vice president, Pence officiated the ceremony and administered the Oath of Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Grenell took the Oath of Office on his family Bible, which was held by his partner of more than 15 years, Matt Lashey.
In his remarks, Pence referenced Lashey and echoed President Trump’s comment last week that Grenell is an “outstanding man” who will do well as U.S. envoy to the world’s fourth largest national economy.
“I share that confidence and conviction,” Pence said.
Looking to the tasks ahead, Pence said Grenell would help strengthen U.S.-German relations by balancing the trade relationship, strengthening military cooperation and encouraging NATO allies to pay their fair share on defense.
“With Ambassador Grenell leading our diplomatic mission to Germany, we’re going to confront shared challenges, seek our shared opportunities and build a shared future with our allies and friends in Germany,” Pence said.
Pence praised the highest-ranking openly gay official in the Trump administration from the shadow of his notoriously anti-LGBT record during his years as a public official.
Pence as a U.S. House member supported a U.S. constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, predicting marriage equality would lead to “societal collapse” and opposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. As Indiana governor, Pence signed into law a “religious freedom” bill enabling individuals and businesses to refuse services to LGBT people before being forced to sign a “fix” limiting the scope of the measure.
Pence is also credited with supporting “ex-gay” conversion therapy based on a vaguely worded 2000 campaign statement regarding HIV/AIDS funds, but a spokesperson has denied the vice president has ever supported the widely discredited practice.
First nominated by Trump in September, Grenell waited nearly eight months for confirmation in the Senate. Grenell faced opposition over mean tweets about the appearance of women, including Hillary Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Callista Gingrich, and tweets downplaying the impact of Russia meddling in the 2016 election.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House broke the logjam. Grenell was confirmed on a party-line 56-42 vote one day before her visit.
Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, said Grenell’s tweets about women make him unworthy of the position of ambassador.
“Being gay doesn’t give you a pass,” Stern said. “Someone with a history of making sexist remarks has no place representing US foreign interests as ambassador to Germany, a country led by a woman no less. Some will argue we should celebrate this appointment because he’s openly gay, but if this is what progress looks like, we need to raise the bar higher.”
Grenell made light of the lengthy time it took for him to win confirmation at the start of his remarks, saying “nothing about this process has been short, so I’m going to keep this very short.”
“This administration is totally focused on the American people,” Grenell said. “I saw the president in action last Friday in debating and talking and negotiating with Chancellor Merkel. And if every American could see President Trump negotiate, they would be wildly supportive of having him as their representative in the White House.”
A foreign policy expert, Grenell has served in various roles as a public communications adviser and a Fox News commentator. Under the George W. Bush administration, Grenell became the longest serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations, working under four U.S. ambassadors.
Grenell, who has described himself as a gay conservative Christian, has a same-sex partner of 15 years, Matt Lashey. Lashey himself is a conservative Christian who graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
For a period of less than two weeks, Grenell served during the 2012 presidential campaign as a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but resigned amid pressure from social conservatives over his sexual orientation. Grenell never had the opportunity to speak publicly in the role.
At the close of Grenell’s remarks, Pence and Grenell shook hands. After concluding the event, Pence shook hands with attendees in the first row of the room.
Among those present in the room for the swearing-in ceremony was Ivanka Trump, who rose from her seat to embrace Lashey and hold an inaudible conversation with Grenell.
Axel Hochrein, who serves on the national board for the Gay & Lesbian Federation in Germany, commended Grenell on his appointment and said his organization “welcomes him as new Ambassador of the United States in Germany.”
“The former ambassadors Philip D. Murphy and John B. Emerson have been great supports of the German LGBTI+ community, and shared of our conviction, that LGBTI+ rights are human rights,” Hochrein said. “So we hope and would appreciate, if Ambassador Grenell follows the footsteps of his predecessors who [worked] together with other ambassadors [in] the Berlin Pride, gave receptions for the LGBTI* Community and delivered speeches at our annual meetings.”
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.