Connect with us

homepage news

Grenell defends progress in global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality

Trump adviser says challenge lies in Muslim beliefs, debate over U.S. influence



Ric Grenell, Richard Grenell, gay news, Washington Blade
Richard Grenell defended progress in the global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality. (Photo public domain)

Richard Grenell, the former director of acting intelligence who has become the face of LGBTQ outreach to re-elect President Trump, defended on Monday the progress of the global initiative he led in the Trump administration to decriminalize homosexuality.

Grenell, in a rare interview with the LGBTQ media with host Cyd Zeigler on the OutSports podcast, initially shifted blame to the Obama administration when asked about criticism the effort to decriminalize same-sex relations in the 69 countries where it remains illegal amounted to nothing.

“Well, first of all, I find very ironic that political types, partisan types will suddenly say that in the last couple of years, we were supposed to make progress on the 69 countries that criminalize homosexuality after eight years in the Obama-Biden administration,” Grenell said. “They did very little if anything to highlight this problem.”

(The Obama administration did work to address human rights abuses against LGBTQ people overseas. Former President Obama in a United Nations speech in 2011 said “we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere,” eight years before President Trump told the U.N. General Assembly his administration would work with countries to decriminalize homosexuality.)

Rooting the problem in Islamic beliefs, Grenell also said the decriminalization of same-sex relations across the globe is an “incredibly difficult problem,” citing not only laws, but “ties to majority-Muslim countries who believe religiously in denying basic rights to gay and lesbians.”

“And so, this has got to be peeled away from not just a civil society, but many religious societies that believe this is kind of a religious mandate,” Grenell said. “And so, it’s an uphill battle, but we are making incredible strides.”

Grenell also repudiated the idea the global initiative accomplished nothing, saying the State Department launched the initiative worldwide and “we have seen incredible progress in some countries.”

“I hesitate to ever — and this may be one of the problems why people don’t see the progress over the last couple of years — we’re very sensitive to not highlighting a country that is getting close or where we making progress because it only serves as a flashpoint for those who want to stop our progress, or the bad actors that would manipulate what we’re trying to do,” Grenell said.

Indeed, at least two countries have made progress in recent months in decriminalize homosexuality. In July, Gabon decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations, becoming one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa to do so, and Sudan eliminated the death penalty the punishment for same-sex relations, although there is still punishment of prison time from five years to life. There’s no evidence those changes happened as a result of the global initiative Grenell led.

One challenge, Grenell said, is “there’s a big healthy debate” in the diplomatic community on whether or not the United States through its embassies “should speak up and confront say in the Middle East countries who criminalize homosexuality and do it from the U.S. embassies.”

“The debate is let’s not make this an American thing, an American push, because many in the Arab believe that being gay is an American idea and it’s from Hollywood, it’s from America and it’s American values — and they say it in a very negative way,” Grenell said.

For his part, Grenell said he’s been fighting within the State Department and the diplomatic community to say, “that’s a crazy idea” and the United States should be leading at the forefront of the issue.

“We all know that being gay is not an American push, or an American idea, and so why would we be silent when confronting those who want to criminalize homosexuality?” Grenell said. “We should not play into this idea that it’s a Western thing. We should call it what it is, which is a crazy idea. There are gay people in every single country and they deserve to have their human dignity and their human rights. These are basic human rights, and I am one to want the U.S. to get much more aggressive in our embassies, and that is a controversial issue: Some don’t want to have the Americans leading the effort in these countries.”

Grenell added the debate has “largely gotten past that” and U.S. embassies are “stepping out” and taking action, which he called “a change in the direction that many embassies have done.”

“I still, though, have problems when certain…embassies and countries don’t want to make this a Western push or an American push, but we do have greater support in the Trump administration to not back down from that fight,” Grenell said.

Although Grenell faulted of the criminalization of homosexuality on Islamic beliefs, he added there has been progress both in the Middle East as well as the Caribbean, where he acknowledged the issue is also a problem.

“Most people are shocked to know…many countries in the Caribbean are just as bad on this issue as some countries in the Middle East,” Grenell said. “And so, we really need to make progress wherever we have the problem, and the 69 countries that criminalize homosexuality — it just means for the State Department and for the U.S. government — we have to work with our friends and allies to have 69 different plans because every single country is different.”

Grenell’s willingness to discuss the initiative stands in contrast to his reaction earlier this month, when he snapped at the New York Post’s Steven Nelson for questioning him about it during a White House briefing on recent Serbia-Kosovo agreement.

Ryan Thoreson, a researcher in the LGBTQ Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said via email Grenell making decriminalization a partisan issue is “not helpful” and the Trump administration initiative falls short because it ignores its anti-LGBTQ record at home.

“Whatever Ambassador Grenell claims to be doing behind the scenes, what the rest of the world sees is an administration that regularly disregards human rights, including the rights of LGBT people, at home and abroad,” Thoreson said. “A genuine commitment to the full range of human rights for LGBT people would mean far more than reassurances that they’re pressuring governments on this single issue behind the scenes.”

The focus of the Outsports interview was Iran’s recent execution of athlete Navid Afkari, who reportedly was killed earlier this month after denouncing the Iranian regime despite an international campaign to save his life. Grenell is now calling on the International Olympics should exclude Iran from the Olympics — a view Zeigler said he shares. (Zeigler said in his blog post he’s been a longtime friend with Grenell.)

Grenell said Trump “believes engagement is something that should happen” and has been open to speaking with Iranian leaders, but “there are times when you have to say this has crossed the line so much” it’s not an option, such as with Iran, which is one of the countries that not only criminalizes homosexuality, but institutes the death penalty for it.

“The regime in Iran needs to be told by the international community that what they’re doing is not good for their people and I think they need to be ostracized,” Grenell said. “I think the international needs to do more to show the Iranian regime that they are on the wrong path.”

Grenell also disclosed he’s aware of underground groups who work to find save haven for gay people in Iran, which persecutes gay people and imposes the death penalty on same-sex relations.

“I have to be very careful how much I give away here, but there are international organizations who will pay for individuals in Iran who are gay or lesbian to get out, and to use this underground system to escape out of Iran,” Grenell said. “There are many stories, hard-breaking stories, of individuals who get out and escape to another country and then try to get a Western-style democracy so that they can live their life freely.”

Grenell said he gets emails, direct messages on social message and text of urgent pleas from gay and lesbian people for help and themselves and their partners, calling it “truly horrific” and the international community needs to take action. (Grenell notably omitted any concern for transgender people or the larger LGBTQ community in the discussion.)

“I really believe that the gay and lesbian community has to understand that our brothers and sisters around the world are really up against some terrible human rights abuses and that we need to do more,” Grenell said. “We are so lucky to be living in the United States, or where I was living in Berlin for a number of years, to live…throughout Europe. We’re blessed to live in countries where we can be who we are and yet we know that there are individual cases around the world, individual countries that deny just basic human rights.”

Grenell recently became senior adviser to the Republican National Committee for LGBTQ outreach and is a co-chair of Trump Pride, which seeks to build support to re-elect Trump in the LGBTQ community despite his anti-LGBTQ record.

Continue Reading

homepage news

Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination



Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

Continue Reading

homepage news

IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada



(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)


Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Continue Reading

homepage news

Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups



Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

Continue Reading

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts