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Obama vs. Biden: No easy task comparing the two on LGBTQ records

One president moved with caution, the other with speed

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Joe Biden, Barack Obama, White House, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

More than seven months into his administration, President Biden has quickly gained a reputation for being a champion for the LGBTQ community — but don’t ask whether that LGBTQ record is superior to his predecessor Barack Obama’s without expecting a fight.

Among the LGBTQ initiatives marking Biden’s tenure within a few months: Undoing the transgender military ban; ordering federal agencies to implement a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the fullest extent possible; and integrating LGBTQ human rights into his foreign policy vision. When Obama was in office, policies along those lines for the LGBTQ community were more spanned out and took an entire eight years to implement.

Take, for example, transgender military service. Biden through an executive order within the first week of his administration reversed Trump’s policy-by-tweet banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. armed forces “in any capacity.” During the time of President Obama, who took office when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for openly gay service members was still law of the land, it took until the last six months before the end of his second term to lift older regulations similarly against transgender service.

Matt Hill, a White House spokesperson, wasn’t shy about ticking off each of these achievements when asked about the comparison between Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues, but didn’t discount the work of the earlier president.

“President Biden is proud of the work accomplished alongside President Obama to advance LGBTQ+ equality from championing marriage equality, enabling LGBTQ+ Americans to serve openly in the military, combatting and preventing discrimination and more,” Hill said. “The Obama-Biden administration made historic progress for LGBTQ+ people at home and abroad, and the Biden-Harris administration is proud to continue making historic progress in the march toward full equality.”

If the chorus from the Lily Allen song “Not Fair” is coming to you in terms of comparing Biden to Obama on LGBTQ issues, that response would be justified. Trying to reach a definite conclusion about who was better is complicated simply because of different times.

Obama came into office when LGBTQ rights were unpopular compared to today and no president ever before had billed themselves fully as an ally the LGBTQ community. Not long ago, President George W. Bush scored political points and possibly won re-election as the war in Iraq turned into a fiasco by making a U.S. constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage a centerpiece of his campaign.

Mara Keisling, who as former executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality advocated for LGBTQ issues in both the Obama and Biden administrations, said “it is that way” Biden’s achievements have been more rapid and Obama’s more spread out over eight years, but added comparing the two is “apples and oranges.”

“We were in a very different place in 2009,” Keisling said. “There had never been a federal government administration that did trans policy before, and so they had to go about it more slowly or they had to figure out how to do it. Second, there weren’t there weren’t a lot of experienced advocates in the LGBT movement. There were really very few people who had done any administrative advocacy in 2009, and now we’re starting this administration with 50 or 60 experienced advocates who got right to it.”

Keisling said the preceding Trump administration, with all its anti-LGBTQ rollbacks, was ironically helpful in getting Biden started because “Donald Trump accidentally left the whole blueprint for what to do, which is just fix a lot of the things he broke.”

The difference in times is key to understanding why to bother comparing Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues in the first place when they’re both generally regarded of supporters of LGBTQ people. It’s more a way to reflect on changing times, recognizing moving quickly on LGBTQ issues was more difficult 12 years ago than it is now.

Nonetheless, despite the Obama years being a different epoch, LGBTQ rights advocates at the start of his administration were outright hostile to Obama for not moving more quickly to push the nation forward, particularly on holding out on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal until two years in office. An initial legal brief defending the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in court, which compared same-sex relationships to underage and ancestral marriages, had LGBTQ people up in arms against a president they worked hard to elect.

The gay blogosphere, in its heyday at the end of the 2000s, skewered White House press secretaries Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney for inartful answers on Obama’s commitment to LGBTQ issues. Liberal bloggers such as John Aravosis at AMERICAblog, Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend and Andy Towle at Towleroad had anti-Obama content alongside posts against Republicans.

Aravosis, in response to an email inquiry from the Blade, said making comparisons of Obama and Biden at this point in their presidencies is difficult given the different nature of the times.

“It’s always hard to compare 2008 and 2021,” Aravosis said. “They were different eras, with different demands. The three big issues for Obama were ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ DOMA and marriage equality. And we got him on board all three of those, with a little cajoling — DADT they delayed action on, DOMA they were defending in court, and marriage took until 2012 to get Obama on board. But eventually he did, on all those issues.”

Aravosis conceded at this time Biden comparatively has made “a ton of small to medium accomplishments early on,” and cited the confirmation of Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay Senate-confirmed Cabinet secretary as one of “a few big ones.”

Even during the Obama years, Biden was credited with moving Obama forward, famously speaking out in favor of same-sex couples getting married on “Meet the Press” as Obama’s “evolution” on the issue was still taking place. Obama would come out for marriage equality days later. Biden had also spoken out in favor of an LGBTQ non-discrimination order in the workplace for federal contractors before Obama made that happen.

Keisling said even though some of Obama’s early caution and missteps had angered LGBTQ advocates at the time, such as excluding transgender people from a 2009 presidential memorandum seeking to expand partner benefits for same-sex couples, they ended up proving beneficial.

“I don’t think any of us really understood what a momentous thing that was,” Keisling said. “But it was from that memo that they immediately realized that the federal government had to protect trans federal employees.”

In contrast to early consternation under Obama, seven months into the Biden administration nary an objection has been heard from LGBTQ leaders, save for a legal brief claiming a right to defend an exemption to LGBTQ non-discrimination law for religious schools that wasn’t even based on the merits. To the contrary, Biden has been lauded as the greatest supporter of LGBTQ people in the White House as his administration has rolled back Trump’s anti-LGBTQ initiatives, fully embracing LGBTQ people in his first months without the need for public cajoling from voices seeking equality.

One person who has worked both in and outside the White House on LGBTQ issues is Brian Bond, now executive director of PFLAG and the first LGBTQ White House liaison under Obama. Bond, however, would not agree to an interview for this article.

Despite the early consternation, the long view on Obama is different. By the time his administration was over after eight years, the LGBTQ community could look back on hate crimes legislation signed into law, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, marriage equality nationwide and transgender people being more visible and respected.

When the Washington Blade reached out to the Office of Barack and Michelle Obama for a comment on the comparison between Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues, a spokesperson ticked off many of these achievements.

“We are so proud of President Obama’s record on LGBTQ issues, including repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, ending the government’s legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, and signing historic hate crimes legislation, but he’s always said the presidency is a relay race and there’s nobody he’d rather have holding the baton right now than Joe Biden, especially when it comes to matters of equality,” the spokesperson said.

It was based on Obama’s overall record, especially his endorsement of same-sex marriage at a critical time in 2012 when the issue was at the polls in four states, that gay commentator Andrew Sullivan in 2012 dubbed him the “First Gay President” for a high-profile cover article in Newsweek.

Sullivan, who has declared the fight for gay rights now over and has been critical of continued efforts in the LGBTQ movement, said the comparison between Obama and Biden on LGBTQ issues is no contest.

“Neither president is responsible for gay equality. We are,” Sullivan wrote in an email to the Blade. “But there is no comparison. Marriage equality and openly gay troops under Obama dwarf anything Biden has done. The Bostock decision — the biggest advance in history for trans rights — happened under Trump.”

Obama, in an interview published in The Advocate last month, said he would “love my legacy to be overshadowed, because it would mean another president was doing even more to protect LGBTQ rights,” which he said was why he was pleased with Biden’s initiatives.

“Now, we obviously have more work to do,” Obama added. “We need to do even more to guarantee basic rights and protections for every American. My hope is that whatever success we had while I was president proves that progress is possible.” 

A continued one-up Obama has over Biden in terms of LGBTQ issues is major legislative achievements. For all the hurdles Biden has already cleared on LGBTQ issues compared to Obama, the Equality Act — the centerpiece of Biden’s campaign promise for LGBTQ people — continues to languish in the U.S. Senate and is all but dead.

By this time in the Obama years, the measure honoring gay teenager Matthew Shepard, who was brutally murdered, was on its way to the White House as an amendment to major defense spending authorization legislation in Congress. The Equality Act, on the other hand, hasn’t even gotten a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Aravosis said the lack of traction for the Equality Act in the Senate is a “similar dilemma” to the one supporters of gay rights faced in 2010 with hurdles in getting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed.

“We were extremely concerned that we’d lose the House in the 2010 midterm elections, so we wanted to get DADT repealed BEFORE that,” Aravosis said. “Same problem today. We need to get the Equality Act passed BEFORE the 2022 midterm elections, lest we lose the House or Senate.”

At the end of the day, however, unlike his criticism for Obama for not moving quickly on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, Aravosis said he doesn’t fault Biden for not getting the Equality Act on his desk.

“With a one-vote margin in the Senate, and the filibuster still in place, I’m not sure how we do that,” Aravosis said. “So, no, I don’t blame Biden for the current vote count being extremely difficult in the Senate.”

Biden last month signed a resolution designating the Orlando, Fla.-based Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were killed in a mass shooting, as a national monument, but that went through Congress unanimously and required no significant political power.

Keisling, when asked if the lack of major legislative achievements on LGBTQ issues detracts from Biden’s record, said the fault lies elsewhere.

“Nothing’s happening in Congress,” Keisling said. “What he has gotten done is kind of amazing — I mean in general not the LGBT stuff, because there really hasn’t been LGBT stuff — because Congress is currently broken. The Senate is broken anyway.”

When the Blade pointed out by this time in his administration Obama was on track to sign hate crimes legislation into law in October 2009 and asked what has changed, Keisling replied, “Talk to me about that in December.”

“I’m more optimistic than you are,” Keisling said. “I know the Blade has tried really hard to express pessimism. But we’re working it, it is still very much alive and there’s actual conversations going on between the right senators. I’m very hopeful still.”

The Human Rights Campaign, which has lobbied on LGBTQ issues in both the Obama and Biden administrations, didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

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Stephen Breyer announces retirement, opens up new battle over Supreme Court

Biden gets chance to add pick to bench

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Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade
Stephen Breyer has announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who had joined landmark decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court in support of LGBTQ rights, announced on Wednesday he’d retire, opening up a new battle over the judiciary and the potential for President Biden to add his first nominee to the high court.

First reported by NBC News, the retirement of Breyer, appointed by former Bill Clinton and confirmed in 1994, fulfills a wish among progressives for him to step down for him to step down to ensure a replacement would be named with Biden in the White House and Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate.

LGBTQ advocates immediately hailed Breyer upon his departure as they called on Biden to name a choice who would fulfill that same approach to the law for generations to come.

Sharon McGowan, chief strategy director and legal director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement Breyer “has been a reliable defender of the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people.”

“We strongly urge President Biden to select a nominee whose commitment to equal justice under law is beyond question, and whose record demonstrates their understanding that LGBTQ+ people are entitled to the full protection of the Constitution’s guarantees of equality and liberty,” McGowan said.

Breyer had joined each of the major decisions from the Supreme Court in favor of LGBTQ rights, which are all handed down during his tenure on the bench. Among them are earlier decisions in Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas as well as decision in favor in marriage equality in Windsor v. United States and Obergefell v. Hodges.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, which affirmed last year anti-LGBTQ discrimination is illegal under federal law, Breyer made the case during oral arguments Congress intended the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to help all vulnerable communities, which include include LGBTQ people.

“In the ’60s, we were only 10 years away from where people who were real slaves and discriminated against obtained a degree of freedom,” Breyer said. “And these statutes were all part of a civil rights movement that was designed to include in our society people who had been truly discriminated against for the worst of reasons. And at that time, this civil rights statute, when it was passed, would have put in the category gay people, transgender people as people who were suffering terrible discrimination.”

Biden, who during his presidential campaign said he’d appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, now has the opportunity to act on that commitment in the wake of Breyer’s retirement.

Ruben Gonzales, executive director of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said Biden should go a step further in that diversity and choose for the high court a Black LGBTQ woman.

“We urge President Biden to make history and appoint a Black LGBTQ woman to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Gonzales said. “With his previous commitment to nominate a Black woman, President Biden affirmed the important role diverse perspectives have on the bench and on the health of our democracy and society. There is a powerful pipeline of Black LGBTQ judges, officials and leaders who are more than qualified to fulfill this promise.

One possibility, named by Gonzales in his statement, Washington State Supreme Court Justice G. Helen Whitener. Another potential choice would be U.S. District Judge Staci Michelle Yandle, who was nominated by former President Obama and confirmed in 2014.

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LGBTQ groups stop short of criticizing Sinema for obstructing filibuster reform

Bisexual senator rebuffs Biden on voting rights proposal

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has declared she won't support filibuster reform to pass voting legislation. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Despite an out bisexual being among two Democrats responsible for thwarting President Biden’s call to advance voting rights, LGBTQ groups that supported Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) stopped short of criticizing her directly for impeding legislation at the top of progressives’ wish lists.

Although the change being sought was limited to voting rights legislation, the refusal from Sinema to change the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to move legislation to the Senate floor as opposed to a simple majority, effectively put a stake in the heart of the legislative agenda for Democrats, including any possibility of enacting LGBTQ civil rights legislation like the Equality Act.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group, declined to identify Sinema by name in an organizational statement provided by a spokesperson via email in response to a Washington Blade inquiry on her refusal to change the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

“The core of our democracy is the right to vote,” the statement says. “The United States Senate must act on legislation to protect that right now, including passage of federal voting rights and voting protection legislation. Without its essential safeguards guaranteeing that the voices of all voters — including LGBTQ+ Black, Brown and other minority voters — will be heard at the ballot box, we cannot ensure that any other right, even those currently enshrined in law, will be protected in the years to come.”

The closest the statement comes to criticizing Sinema, without actually doing so, is the final line: “As a result, we feel that it is necessary for the Senate to take whatever actions are required, including changes to Senate rules, to ensure a majority to pass this essential legislation.”

The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Sinema in the past as a candidate for U.S. Senate and hosted her as a special guest for fundraising and promotional events. It should be noted, JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president of policy and political affairs, once worked for Sinema as chief of staff.

Asked whether HRC’s position was informed by Winterhof’s past work, the spokesperson replied: “Many of our staff have experience working on the Hill. Regardless of who they have worked for, we continue to believe that it is necessary for the Senate to take whatever actions are required, including changes to the Senate rules, to pass federal voting reform.”

Moments before Sinema was set last Thursday to meet with Biden on the filibuster, she took to the Senate floor preemptively and declared she wouldn’t budge.

“There’s no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation,” Sinema said.

Added Sinema: “When one party need only negotiate with itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle towards the extremes,” adding that she doesn’t support that outcome and “Arizonans do not either.”

Joining Sinema in refusing to budge on the filibuster is her fellow moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has proposed alternatives to the current state of Senate rules, but ultimately rejected the changes proposed by the caucus.

In contrast to the relatively muted response from LGBTQ groups, other civil rights organizations were quick to denounce Sinema and Manchin for supporting the filibuster, calling the Senate rules as they stand Jim Crow 2.0. Late Monday, Emily’s List announced it would no longer support Sinema for re-election over her position on voting rights.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights leader, compared Manchin and Sinema to white moderates who half-heartedly supported his father’s work.

“History will not remember them kindly,” the younger King said, referring to Sinema and Manchin by name, according to PBS News Hour.

One exception to LGBTQ groups declining to criticize Sinema was the National LGBTQ Task Force, which said the senator should be coming up with alternatives to filibuster reform.

Kierra Johnson, executive director of the Task Force, said she’s been “asking questions because Sen. Sinema is known for being a supporter of so many pieces of progressive legislation and culture change related to queer people and women’s civil and human rights.”

“I want to see better and more, right?” Johnson said. “Yes, we should be working to build bridges across the aisle, across political ideology, but for me, the question is if you’re not going to support filibuster reform, then what are you supporting, and what is the pathway forward?”

Johnson added Sinema “owes it to the people who have supported her over the years to come up with these alternatives if she won’t support filibuster reform.”

Asked whether the Task Force has done any outreach to Sinema, Johnson said the organization is “in the process of trying to meet with her folks” and looking at ways to bring to her voices from LGBTQ movement community leaders.

Biden’s call to reform the filibuster — even though it was limited to voting rights legislation — may have been dead on arrival as Sinema and Manchin have consistently resisted efforts in the Senate to reform the filibuster. The efforts to change Senate rules, however, appeared to have new strength after Biden’s speech in Georgia last week making a plea for reform based on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the restrictive voting law passed in that state.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, asked Friday about Sinema and Manchin refusing to budge on the filibuster, said the administration would continue to push for voting rights legislation.

“I would say that the president’s view, as you heard him say yesterday, is that we’re going to continue to press to get this done moving forward,” Psaki said. “And that means continuing to engage with a range of officials who are supportive, some who have questions and some who are skeptical.”

Psaki pointed out Biden ended up having the meeting with Sinema despite her remarks on the floor, adding “that’s evidence of his continued commitment to keep engaging.”

The LGBTQ community, as with any issue, isn’t uniform in thinking Sinema should be obligated to have a certain view against the filibuster simply because she’s bisexual, or that LGBTQ groups should criticize her for being obstructionist.

One LGBTQ strategist, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, outright rejects calls for Sinema to support a change in rules because the filibuster “ensures that minority perspectives cannot be trampled by majoritarianism.”

“Portraying an LGBTQ woman as a gender and sexuality traitor shows a deep disrespect for our history,” the strategist added. “Sinema’s success in fighting for working families, vulnerable populations and LGBTQ rights is grounded in the belief that building large coalitions is how to best effect legal and social changes. Naturally, it follows she would be against a change in decades of Senate precedent that would prioritize hyper partisanship over persuasion.”

Biden’s speech in Georgia may have been more of an attempt to excite the progressive base as opposed to making a strategic push for filibuster reform. After all, his popularity is at an all-time low, which limits his influence. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll asking voters to grade Biden after his first year in office found 37 percent gave him an “F,” compared to the 31 who gave either “A” and “B,” which is a touch worse than Trump at this point in his presidency.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Sinema in the past, declined to make any declarations about withholding an endorsement when asked by the Washington Blade.

“Our Victory Fund Campaign Board – made up of more than 150 political leaders and advocates from across the country – votes to determine our endorsements,” said Elliot Imse, a Victory Fund spokesperson. “If Sen. Sinema runs for reelection, a review of her record as it relates to equality will of course be a primary consideration for whether she receives our endorsement. That board vote would take place, if she applies for endorsement, in late 2023 or 2024.”

Imse added as a U.S. senator Sinema is not currently up for election because after being elected in 2018 she is set to hold her seat for another four years.
 
“Sen. Sinema is not currently endorsed by Victory Fund and is not on an active ballot,” Imse said. “We last endorsed her in 2018 when she was running against Martha McSally – a right-wing extremist candidate vociferously opposed to equality for LGBTQ people.”

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Grenell emails reveal internal talk on Trump era policy against Pride flag

U.S. embassies barred from rainbow flag on official poles

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Ric Grenell, Richard Grenell, gay news, Washington Blade
Richard Grenell's emails reveals internal talk about the Pride flag policy at U.S. embassies. (Blade file photo)

The latest emails from the State Department obtained by the Washington Blade via its lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act reveal internal deliberation in the Trump administration over news reports about the prohibition of displaying Pride flags on the official pole at U.S. embassies.

Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, whose emails the Blade is seeking as the public face of a global initiative that pledged to decriminalize homosexuality, is repeatedly shown in the communications instructing his aides at the embassy in Berlin to give no comment to the media, including in response to an inquiry at the time from the Blade, on the flag policy for embassies.

“Thanks. Say nothing. I’m working it internally,” Grenell responds in an email chain after being updated on the latest media inquiries, which included requests from ABC’s Conor Finnegan, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and CBS.

It’s unclear what, if anything, Grenell was doing as part of “working it internally” as news broke that embassies were barred from flying Pride flags on the official pole, or even whether he was seeking a substantive change as opposed to crafting talking points to mitigate the appearance of the Trump administration being anti-LGBTQ.

“No Fox or local German press but I suspect that the latter will be coming today once they wake up and read other coverage,” writes Joseph Giordono-Scholz, who was handling media relations for the embassy. “Will continue as discussed, no responses.”

In 2019, shortly after Grenell announced he’d spearhead a global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality on behalf of the Trump administration, U.S. embassies that had sought to raise the rainbow flag in recognition of June as Pride month were barred from doing so under guidance from the State Department. 

Critics at the time jumped on the policy as further evidence the Trump administration was anti-LGBTQ, despite having recently launched the decriminalization initiative. Trump defenders pointed out the prohibition was limited to the official pole, was a general ban of flying any flag other than the U.S. flag, and embassies found other ways to display the Pride flag on their grounds.

Grenell didn’t respond Tuesday to the Blade’s request for comment on the meaning of “working it internally,” but Log Cabin Republicans, an organization close to Grenell, volunteered a message shortly after the Blade sent its inquiry to him.

Charles Moran, managing director of Log Cabin Republicans, said in the email the conception the Trump administration banned Pride flags at embassies is erroneous.

“We were very pleased that President Trump made it clear that pride flags could continue to be flown at embassies around the globe, despite logistical discussions internally being had at the State Department,” Moran said.

Attached in the email is an image of Moran standing below a pole with both a U.S. flag and a rainbow flag, which Moran said was taken at the U.S. Embassy Berlin on July 26, 2019, when he was en route to a decriminalization discussion forum being hosted there. 

Asked by the Blade whether that was the official pole, Moran replied, “I don’t know what an ‘official pole’ is. It was a professionally installed flag pole, on the embassy next to the front door.” Moran didn’t respond to an additional follow up question on what he meant by Trump making it clear Pride flags would be allowed at embassies.

Morgan Ortagus, then-spokesperson for the State Department, defended former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s policy against Pride flags on as she acknowledged “Pride Month that we’re in right now celebrated around the world by many State Department employees, by many embassies.”

“The secretary has the position that, as it related to the flag pole, that only the American flag should be flown there,” Ortagus said.

The email chain within the U.S. embassy in Berlin on the news development began with Giordono-Scholz forwarding Grenell a link to a story from NBC News’s Josh Lederman, who broke the story on U.S. embassies being unable to fly Pride flags, followed by a subsequent email with the text of his article. The immediacy with which the aide sends the link in an email first before the story itself in a subsequent message suggests a sense of urgency in distribution and awareness the article would be forthcoming.

Other news outlets were quick to follow up, including the Blade, as evidenced by Giordono-Scholz’s follow up question to Grenell after sharing the initial NBC News story.

“CNN (Michelle Kosinski) just called, asked if we had anything to add,” Giordono-Scholz writes. “Wash Blade also just emailed. How would like me to respond to these and coming inquiries — just point them to the NBC statement you gave and refer back to DC on questions about the Dept?”

Grenell was succinct in response: “Say nothing. Right now don’t respond.”

Giordono-Scholz acknowledges the instructions from Grenell in a subsequent email, which also notifies him of an inquiry from the Washington Post’s Carol Morello.

“Will continue to let you know about inquires but not respond to any,” Giordono-Scholz writes.

The emails were obtained in a FOIA production from the State Department this week as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Blade with attorneys at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. The litigation was filed in August 2021 after interminable delays in production of communications, which the Blade initially sought by a FOIA request in September 2020.

The State Department has identified tens of thousands of emails potentially responsive to the Blade’s request and is expected to release those it deems to be responsive periodically as a result of an agreement in the litigation.

Also ensnared in the latest email dump are communications on other foreign policy topics, including the Nord Strom 2 pipeline and Iran’s seizure of oil tankers. Many of these emails reveal a preoccupation with using tweets as a tool to convey foreign policy messages with little else mentioned in terms of engagement.

“I’m watching. Already tweeted about it ;)” Grenell responds when an aide informs him that Iran has seized oil tankers.

Evyenia Sidereas, political minister-counselor at the U.S. embassy in Berlin, responds: “My twitter alerts can’t keep up :),” which prompts Grenell to reply: “I’ve been a little busy today. Lol.”

The emphasis on Twitter is also seen after an aide in May 2019 brings to Grenell’s attention the Kenya high court has affirmed the country’s law against homosexuality. An aide (whose name the State Department redacted in the email) informs him then-U.S. Ambassador Kyle McCarter is set to have a meeting with staff “to discuss whether he’ll issue a statement” and the embassy in Nairobi had updated the State Department while awaiting further guidance.

“I’ll tweet about this one, too,” Grenell says. “Can you make a suggestion and I’ll tweet Hungary today. Kenya tomorrow.” (It’s unclear what the reference to Hungary was regarding.)

In terms of discussion at the U.S. embassy on the Kenya decision, whatever was considered apparently didn’t bear fruit. The Blade couldn’t immediately find any public statement on the Kenya decision from McCarter in his capacity as a U.S. ambassador during the Trump administration. McCarter didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment for this article.

In 2018, McCarter was grilled during his Senate confirmation hearing on his record as an Illinois state legislator who opposed LGBTQ rights, including his vote against an anti-bullying measure after stating he believed it would promote homosexuality. McCarter also had a history of misogynistic tweets and in 2016 tweeted: “Hillary for Prison. No, really.”

Much of the focus on the Trump administration’s global initiative appeared to be Iran, which has been an antagonist on the global stage and more so after Trump withdrew from the Iran deal. Iran is also one of the countries where homosexuality is not only criminalized, but punishable by death.

Although Grenell has publicly disputed Iran was the focus, he was quick to provide a quote to his assistant seeking a response from him after the country’s foreign minister affirmed its anti-gay policy in response to questions from a reporter with a German newspaper.

“The UN’s Declaration of Human Rights makes clear that these answers from the Iranian regime are violating basic UN principles,” Grenell writes. “UN members should agree with the Declaration in order to be members. Criminalizing homosexuality violates the Declaration, plain and simple.”

Grenell’s response was later found online in an article in The Jerusalem Post, which covered reaction to the news in an article titled, “Iran’s FM affirms right to execute gays and blasts U.S. and Israel.”

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