June 14, 2019 at 12:39 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
17 Senate Dems demand answers from State Dept. on Pride flag ban

Edward Markey, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Edward Markey is seeking answers from the State Department on the Pride flag ban. (Photo public domain)

A group of 17 Senate Democrats — including six presidential candidates — are demanding answers from the State Department on its commitment to LGBT human rights in the aftermath of its decision to bar the flying of Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

In a letter dated June 13 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Senate Democrats led by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) asserts that barring the Pride flag from the official flagpole at U.S. embassies “is sending a powerfully negative message to the rest of the world about the U.S. commitment to LGBTI human rights.”

In addition, the Senate Democrats take issue with the absence of a 2019 Pride proclamation from Pompeo. Although Pompeo last year issued a statement recognizing Pride Month, he declined to do so again in 2019. At the State Department event earlier this month in which LGBT employees and foreign services officers celebrated Pride, the 2018 declaration was distributed without any updates for the current year.

“This community requires our moral leadership and support,” the letter says. “But preventing the official flying of rainbow flags and limiting public messages celebrating 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.”

The senators seek answers from the State Department on these issues as well as related to LGBT human rights — such as the continued vacancy of the position of U.S. envoy for international LGBT human rights — by a deadline of June 28:

1. Has the under secretary of management or any other department official denied any requests this year from U.S. embassies to fly the Pride flag on an embassy flagpole? If so, why? Please provide the full list of embassies that made this request and the department’s decision regarding each request.
2. In the past, the department typically defers to chief of mission on whether embassies should fly a Pride flag. However, according to a Washington Post report, this year was different. Why did the department change its past practice of deferring to chiefs of mission? Please provide a copy of the advisory cable that requires embassies to seek approval to fly a rainbow flag.
3. Why did the department decide not to issue a public statement this year for Pride Month?
4. Why did the department decide not to send out a cable detailing options for celebrating Pride Month?
5. When does the department intend to fill the position of LGBTI special envoy?

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the State Department seeking comment on the letter. Previously, State Department spokesperson Monica Ortagus, has defended the policy, asserting Pompeo “has the position that as it relates to the flagpole that only the American flag should be flown there.” Although Trump hasn’t publicly commented on the ban, Vice President Mike Pence has said he supports it.

A group of 50 House Democrats led by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) have signed a companion letter calling on the State Department to reverse its policy against Pride flags at U.S. embassies.

The senators who signed the Senate letter are Markey, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), 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.).

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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