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Grenell emails hint at initial steps in Trump effort to decriminalize homosexuality

State Dept. identified 10 countries for int’l efforts

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Ric Grenell, Richard Grenell, gay news, Washington Blade
Richard Grenell's emails hint at groundwork for campaign to decriminalize homosexuality. (Photo public domain)

Emails from the State Department — obtained by the Washington Blade from a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act — reveal the Trump administration had at least laid the preliminary groundwork for a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality to the extent of identifying 10 countries where it was thought most possible.

The initial seven-page batch of emails, obtained by the FOIA lawsuit seeking communications from former U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell in his capacity as leader of the initiative to decriminalize homosexuality, was delivered to the Blade last month and hints at initial steps toward a plan shortly after the announcement of the initiative. 

It’s unclear from the initial production what further efforts, if any, sprang from the identification of these 10 countries. Critics at the time said the campaign was nothing but window-dressing to cover up for anti-LGBTQ policies during the Trump administration.

In an exchange dated Aug. 23, 2019, an assistant to Grenell forwards an email from an individual whose identity is redacted on an edited list of 10 countries where “we believe decriminalization is possible.” Copied on the email is Robin Quinville, who was deputy chief of mission in Berlin.

“Per your request, attached and edited below is the list of 10 countries where LGBTI decriminalization is possible — with your and Robin’s edits incorporated,” the email is redacted.

The names of the 10 countries, however, are redacted in the exchange provided to the Blade, as is an apparent Word document attached in the exchange with a short justification for each of the countries. Also redacted are the names of two agencies an assistant in the email identifies as having “cleared” the list. 

The assistant tells Grenell the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor hasn’t yet responded, but the embassy “will forward their list when we receive it.”

As a result of the redactions, the identity of the 10 countries is unknown at this time. The early production given the Blade in response to a FOIA request filed in September 2020 offers no indication on the extent to which the State Department conducted further efforts to change the law in these countries, or whether there was any engagement after identifying them.

Grenell didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment for this article on how the identification of these 10 countries informed efforts to decriminalize homosexuality. Quinville couldn’t be reached for comment.

The initial FOIA production also includes an earlier exchange between an assistant and Grenell dated June 11, 2019, shortly after Botswana became the latest country to decriminalize homosexuality, forwarding a link to a Washington Post article on that news. The name of the assistant is redacted and may or may not be the same as the one in the other exchange.

“Some good news coming out of Botswana! Their High Court ruled today that parts of the penal code criminalizing same-sex conduct are unconstitutional,” the unidentified assistant writes.

Grenell is short in his reply: “I just tweeted about it.” It’s not clear whether or not Grenell contributed to the decriminalization efforts in Botswana other than the tweet he references. The assistant goes on to share a link from a tweet from the State Department spokesperson congratulating Botswana.

Other countries addressing the criminalization of homosexuality after the Trump administration’s initiative was announced were Gabon, which became one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa to decriminalize homosexuality, and Sudan, which eliminated the death penalty as punishment for homosexual conduct (although the punishment remains prison time from five years to life). 

There’s no evidence those changes happened as a result of the global initiative Grenell led. One of the aims of the Blade’s FOIA lawsuit is to shed light on any activity from the U.S. government during the Trump administration in assisting with efforts, successful or otherwise, to decriminalize homosexuality.

The redactions on the production in the FOIA lawsuit may not be the last word. FOIA was amended in 2016 to clarify federal agencies cannot redact deliberative language without demonstrating revealing that information would cause “foreseeable harm.” The Blade, represented by attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, will have the opportunity to challenge these redactions once the FOIA production is complete.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, the State Department cited a “sizable universe of potentially responsive records” numbering in the thousands of pages as a reason for being unable to produce the records in a more timely manner. The initial seven pages produced by the State Department are an extremely small percentage of that total.

An unnamed State Department official, in response to an inquiry submitted by the Blade’s attorneys on the reasons for the initial limited production, fell back on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and overwhelming nature of the work, citing a need to consult “subject matter experts” before disclosing potentially sensitive material.

“That process can take considerable time, particularly given the substantial constraints that have been imposed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the State Department response says. “Thus, it’s not necessarily the case that the size of the potentially responsive universe returned by your client’s request should dictate the size of State’s first production. Similarly, a small production set does not necessarily entail that State has not processed a sizeable number of records during the preceding processing cycle.”

The Blade, through its attorneys, has asked the State Department to determine how much of the “sizable universe” has been reviewed and determined to be responsive or non-responsive (“fully processed”) and how long would the process involving subject matter experts take.

Daniel Fiedler, representing the Blade in the FOIA lawsuit as an attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, said the initial production from the State Department was unsatisfactory.

“In December, the Department of State made its first production in response to the FOIA request submitted by the Washington Blade over a year ago,” Fiedler said. “This nominal production consisted of two email records, both heavily redacted. Such a token response after so much time is truly disheartening, and we will continue to push to ensure that the Department satisfies its obligations under FOIA.” 

Fiedler concluded: “The American public is entitled access to the records sought, and every additional day without that access causes further harm.”

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras impide que personas LGBTQ puedan casarse y tengan derechos civiles 

Organizaciones presentan nuevos recursos de inconstitucionalidad

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Manifestaciones del 20 de enero en la Corte Suprema de Justicia por la decisión de la Corte (Foto cortesía de Reportar sin Miedo)

Reportar sin Miedo es el socio mediático del Washington Blade en Honduras. Esta nota salió en su sitio web el 20 de enero.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Líderes LGBTIQ+ enfrentaron un hecho de discriminación hoy al presentarse en la Corte Suprema de Justicia, donde los guardias de seguridad los reprimieron y cerraron los portones de acceso vehícular y peatonal, impidiéndoles ingresar al edificio para presentar los recursos de inconstitucionalidad sobre el matrimonio igualitario. 

En una marcha pacífica, más de 50 personas de la diversidad sexual organizadas en mesas de acceso a la justicia de Honduras salieron del bulevar las Fuerzas Armadas hacia las instalaciones del Poder Judicial para pedirles a los magistrados de la Sala de lo Constitucional que acepten un nuevo recurso tras el fallo anunciado esta semana y presentado en 2018 por las organizaciones Cattrachas y Somos CDC. 

Durante los 10 minutos en que se interrumpió el acceso al palacio judicial, lxs activistas denunciaron agresiones verbales del personal de seguridad de la Corte. Al final ingresaron por el portón vehícular. Se instalaron en las gradas de la entrada principal e hicieron un plantón pacífico, durante el cual exclamaron: “Sí se pudo”, después de lo cual se permitió que líderes LGBTIQ+ ingresaran a la sala a presentar el nuevo recurso. 

Las mesas de acceso a la justicia para población LGBTIQ+ están integradas por Arcoiris, Somos CDC, Asociación Kukulcán, colectivo feminista Ixchel, Somos Trans, Colectivo Violeta, Muñecas de Arcoiris, Grupo Lésbico y Bisexual LITOS de Honduras entre otras.

La directora de Muñecas de Arcoíris, JLo Córdova, y sus compañeras trans marcharon y exigieron a la corte respeto a los derechos civiles de las personas LGBTIQ+ en Honduras. 

“No esperamos nada de una clase política opresora”, dijo el activista de la Asociación Arcoíris, Donnis Reyes, quien recalcó que el fallo de la CSJ no es nada nuevo, ya que por más de 12 años el Partido Nacional de Honduras ha influenciado las decisiones del Poder Legislativo y Judicial. 

“Estamos pidiendo que se deroguen ciertos artículos anticonstitucionales y no están basados en derechos”, dijo la directora ejecutiva de la organización feminista Ixchel, Lucía Barrientos, quien se refiere a la opinión consultiva sobre identidad de género, igualdad y no discriminación a parejas del mismo sexo presentada por la Corte IDH. 

La Corte IDH ha indicado que existe un vínculo indisoluble entre igualdad y no discriminación y se ha establecido la dificultad de separarlos por cuanto el incumplimiento de uno (igualdad) acarrea necesariamente la verificación de la prohibición del segundo (no discriminación). 

En ese sentido, la Corte IDH ha indicado que, en función del reconocimiento de igualdad ante la ley, se prohíbe todo tratamiento discriminatorio. Este principio rector y derecho fundamental fue acertadamente introducido en nuestra Constitución en su artículo 60.

“La falta de reconocimiento jurídico de la realidad conformada por las parejas homosexuales es un atentado contra la dignidad de sus integrantes porque lesiona su autonomía y capacidad de autodeterminación al impedir que su decisión de conformar un proyecto de vida en común produzca efectos jurídico-patrimoniales, lo cual significa que, dado un régimen imperativo del derecho civil, quedan en una situación de desprotección que no están en capacidad de afrontar”, resolvió la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Honduras.

La CSJ declaró no ha lugar los recursos de Inconstitucionalidad vía acción y por razón de contenido, ambos contra el Decreto No. 176-2024, emitido por el Congreso Nacional de la República, en fecha 28 de octubre del año 2004, mediante el cual reformó el artículo 112 de la Constitución de la República y el artículo 45 del Código de Familia.

El fallo fue notificado en la tercera semana de enero, a pocos días de la culminación del gobierno nacionalista de Juan Hernández, pero la sentencia fue emitida en abril de 2021, dos meses después (28 de junio) de la sentencia histórica del caso “Vicky Hernández y otros versus Honduras” por la Corte IDH, donde condena al Estado de Honduras por el asesinato de la líder trans de San Pedro Sula y ordena una serie de reparaciones que incluye otorgar, a través de la vía administrativa, el cambio de nombre de las personas trans, así como otra serie de derechos. 

Reportar sin Miedo habló con activistas, quienes dijeron: “Hubo un retraso injustificado en la notificación de la sentencia”. 

En América Latina, 10 países reconocen algún tipo de uniones del mismo sexo. El matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo es legal en Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, México, Uruguay y en los territorios dependientes de Guayana Francesa e islas Malvinas. Bajo una perspectiva del derecho comparado, el reconocimiento de las uniones homosexuales se ha dado a través de dos vías: la judicial (a través de sentencias de tribunales judiciales) y la legislativa.

Sin embargo, en Honduras el artículo 112 Constitucional, en su párrafo primero, literalmente dice: “Se reconoce el derecho del hombre y de la mujer, que tengan la calidad de tales naturalmente, a contraer matrimonio entre sí, así como la igualdad jurídica de los cónyuges. Solo es válido el matrimonio civil celebrado ante funcionario”.

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