September 24, 2019 at 11:21 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Trump brings up global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality at U.N.

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”

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

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