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Trump brings up global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality at U.N.

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In a surprise move, President Trump included in his speech before the United Nations on Tuesday his administration’s global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality in the more than 70 countries where it remains illegal.

“My administration is working with other nations to stop criminalizing of homosexuality,” Trump said. “And we stand in solidarity with LGBT people who live in countries that punish, jail and execute people based upon sexual orientation.”

The remarks mark the first time ever outside of Twitter Trump has acknowledged the global initiative, which is being spearheaded by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-ranking openly gay person in the Trump administration.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere echoed the President’s message in response to the Washington Blade’s request seeking background on the decision-making that led to the inclusion of those words in Trump’s speech and what comes next.

“It was an opportunity to deliver an important message to world leaders and a global audience that the U.S. will not stand for the criminalizing of homosexuality,” Deere said.

It’s not the first time a U.S. president has brought up LGBT rights in a speech before the United Nations. That distinction belongs to President Obama, who included gays and lesbians in a speech addressing the General Assembly in 2011.

“No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere,” Obama said.

In 2011, Hillary Clinton gave an entire speech before United Nations delegates in Geneva devoted to U.S. solidarity with LGBT people across the globe. A notable line in the speech was Clinton saying, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Trump’s speech, however, was likely the first time a U.S. president has explicitly brought up the decriminalization of homosexuality in remarks before the United Nations.

The inclusion of the LGBT initiative in Trump’s speech was one component of more than 30-minute speech before the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, which heavily focused on nationalism, denouncing socialism, and criticizing Iran and China.

“Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first,” Trump said. “The future does not belong to the globalists; the future belongs to the patriots.”

Charles Moran, managing director of Log Cabin Republicans, heaped praised on Trump for including the global initiative in his speech.

“President Trump is fulfilling on his initiative to decriminalize homosexuality across the globe,” Moran said. “We are thankful that he will use this moment while addressing the world to call for the end of senseless persecution of LGBTQ individuals. President Trump is keeping his promises to the the LGBTQ community, and for standing up for American values.”

Echoing that praise at Log Cabin was board chair Bob Kabel, who said Trump “challenged the world to do better concerning LGBTQ protections.” Log Cabin endorsed Trump last month.

“In over 71 countries, it is still illegal to be gay. President Trump’s leadership on this issue is heartening during a time when our LGBTQ brothers and sisters abroad still face life-threatening discrimination,” Kabel said. “We are looking forward to working with the administration to promote policies that will project America’s leadership on this issue.

Trump includes the remarks in speech as LGBT groups have criticizing him building an anti-LGBT record. Among other things, the Trump administration has implemented a transgender military ban, excluded LGBT people from enforcement of civil rights laws and sought to enable anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religious freedom.

Just last month, the Trump administration submitted legal briefs before the Supreme Court arguing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, doesn’t apply to cases of anti-LGBT discrimination. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument in the landmark case Oct. 8.

Moreover, a growing number of Democrats are calling for the impeachment of Trump over recent reporting that suggests he threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine unless the country investigated Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden, Trump’s potential opponent in the 2020 election.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Trump including the administration’s global initiative to decriminalize same-sex relations in his speech pales in comparison to the rest of his record.

“Trump has no credibility to speak about LGBTQ human rights abroad when he has done so much to damage them here at home, from banning trans people from the military to proposing that medical providers can deny care to LGBTQ patients and permitting federal contractors to fire employees for being LGBTQ,” Stacy said.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight International, noted Trump’s emphasis on nationalism in his speech and said he can’t have it both ways with a global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality.

“Throwing in a reference to opposing the criminalization of same-sex relations while at the same time stating that the national supersedes the international, and that tradition and culture are sacred, is one more example of President Trump’s hypocrisy,” Stern said. “LGBTIQ people across the world, including in the U.S., do not feel safe or protected within their borders and are often attacked under the guise of tradition. In all too many places, international standards have been the only avenue for LGBTIQ people to have our rights recognized, to seek remedy for crimes committed against us, and for pushing nations to accept that human rights belong to all, including, explicitly, LGBTIQ people”

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Russia

U.S. official meets with Brittney Griner

Consular visit took place on May 19

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A mugshot of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. (Russian television screenshot)

A U.S. consular official on May 19 visited detained WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Friday told reporters during a virtual briefing the officer “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.” The officer met with Griner two days after U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Russian officials had denied consular visits with her three times this month.

“Our message is a clear and simple one,” said Price. “We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.”

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

The State Department has determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. 

A Russian court on May 13 extended her detention for another month. The Women’s National Basketball Players Association, a union that represents WNBA players, has endorsed a petition that urges the Biden administration to “prioritize” Griner’s release.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, on May 14.

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Latin America

U.S. announces more funding to fight HIV/AIDS in Latin America

Jill Biden made announcement on Saturday in Panama

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Former Panamanian first lady Lorena Castillo and UNAIDS in 2017 launched a campaign to fight discrimination against Panamanians with HIV/AIDS. Panama will receive $12.2 million in new PEPFAR funding to further combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latin America. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

First lady Jill Biden on Saturday announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America.

Biden during a visit to Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a shelter for people with HIV/AIDS in Panama City, said the State Department will earmark an additional $80.9 million for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-funded work in Latin America. A Panamanian activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke said LGBTQ people were among those who met with the first lady during her visit.

Pope Francis visited the shelter in 2019.

“I’m glad we have the opportunity to talk about how the United States and Panama can work together to combat HIV,” said the first lady.

Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesperson, noted Panama will receive $12.2 million of the $80.9 million in PEPFAR funding.

“This funding, pending Congressional notification, will support expanded HIV/AIDS services and treatment,” said LaRosa.

UNAIDS statistics indicate an estimated 31,000 Panamanians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2020. The first lady’s office notes the country in 2020 had the highest number of “newly notificated cases of HIV/AIDS” in Central America.

The first lady visited Panama as part of a trip that included stops in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The Summit of the Americas will take place next month in Los Angeles. The U.S. Agency for International Development and PEPFAR in April announced they delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

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Politics

Republican Pa. governor nominee opposes LGBTQ rights

Former President Trump backed state Sen. Doug Mastriano

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Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano (Screenshot/NBC News)

Republican leadership in the Keystone State are expressing quiet alarm over the emergence of radical-right state senator who secured his place as the party’s nominee in the race against Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro, who is himself currently serving as the commonwealth’s attorney general.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who represents Cumberland, Adams, Franklin and York Counties in the South Central Pennsylvania area bordering Maryland, was not seen as a truly viable candidate in the primary race to be the party standard-bearer until he was endorsed by former President Trump.

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race has serious implications for the outcome of the 2024 presidential election cycle as well. The commonwealth is a strategic swing state and the occupant of the governor’s chair in Harrisburg will lend considerable influence to a final vote count.

Mastriano is a polarizing figure within the state’s Republican Party.

The retired U.S. Army colonel has campaigned at political events that included QAnon adherents, he espoused a political agenda that embraced Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election, rejected measures taken to protect Pennsylvanians including masks in the coronavirus pandemic, holding an anti-vaccine “Medical Freedom Rally” rally on the state Capitol steps days after declaring his candidacy for the GOP governor’s primary race, and also mixing in messaging of Christian nationalism.

He also supports expanding gun rights in Pennsylvania and in the state Senate sponsored a bill to ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected.

NBC News noted that Mastriano pledged in his election night address that on the first day of his administration he would crack down on “critical race theory,” a catchall term Republicans have used to target school equity programs and new ways of teaching about race, transgender rights and any remaining COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

“CRT is over,” Mastriano declared. “Only biological females can play on biological females’ teams,” he added, and “you can only use the bathroom that your biology and anatomy says.”

His anti-LGBTQ views have long been part of his personal portfolio. The Washington Post reported that 21 years ago while attending the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College in 2001, then-Maj. Mastriano wrote his master’s thesis on a hypothetical “left-wing ‘Hitlerian putsch'” that was caused by “the depredations of the country’s morally debauched civilian leaders.” Among those “depredations,” in his words, was the “insertion of homosexuality into the military.”

As the Post reported, his paper shows “disgust for anyone who doesn’t hold his view that homosexuality is a form of ‘aberrant sexual conduct.'”

The paper is posted on an official Defense Department website and lists Mastriano as the author at a time when he said he received a master’s degree from the school.

This is not the only instance of Mastriano professing anti-LGBTQ beliefs. 

In 2018, he stated his belief that LGBTQ couples should not be allowed to adopt a child. During an interview with 103.7 FM, when asked “should LGBTQ couples, i.e. two moms or two dads, be allowed to adopt?” Mastriano answered, “No.” [This takes place at the 16:00 mark.]

NBC News interviewed David La Torre, a Republican and former adviser to fellow gubernatorial candidate Jake Corman.

“As far as what a Pennsylvania government would look like with Mastriano in charge, quite frankly, it’s just not something I’m ready to think about at this point,” La Torre said, adding that while there are many unknowns, the dynamic between Mastriano and the state General Assembly, currently controlled by Republicans, would be one to watch. 

“All I know is this — he will govern as governor like he campaigned,” he said. “He would govern with a sledgehammer and expect Republicans to fall in line. And it would be one of the more fascinating tugs of war we’ve seen in Harrisburg.”

Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County GOP, told NBC News that Mastriano’s victory was “a shame” for the party, the product of “a phenomenon that I truly don’t understand.” But any misgivings won’t stop Ball from working toward the ultimate goal: taking back the governor’s mansion, saying it’s a must-win race. (The two-term incumbent, Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited.)

As if telegraphing the battles to come should he take the governor’s chair, Politico reported: “Our biggest problem,” said Mastriano on Steve Bannon’s “War Room: Pandemic” podcast on Tuesday, “is going to be these feckless RINO-type Republicans here that will not allow us to have a fighter as governor. But we’re going to beat them and they’re going to lose power, and they’re going to be put to shame.”

Mastriano lists agenda as governor during Pa. GOP nominee victory speech:

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