President Donald Trump's administration plans to continue the U.S. government's advocacy favoring the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. This has, in a baffling and yet predictable pattern, angered several loud voices in the LGBT community.
Yesterday, NBC News reported that the administration, pushed by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell (who is openly gay), was "planning to launch a worldwide effort to end the criminalization of homosexuality worldwide." There are 70 countries that still have laws on the book that treat homosexual behavior as a crime, and some countries have extremely harsh penalties. This announcement is widely being seen as an attempt to challenge and target Iran and potentially get international support for sanctions.
The response to this announcement was nearly comical in the fabricated outrage among certain LGBT voices who wanted to scream from the rooftops that Trump doesn't really, truly care about gay people. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT lobbying organization that typically favors Democratic Party interests, responded with a thread of tweets about how much Trump administration policies and practices have not been in favor of LGBT folks. (Though if one of your complaints is that Trump made fun of Vice President Mike Pence's anti-gay attitudes, you're kind of stepping on your own point.)
An even stranger response came from the gay magazine Out, which gave space to a writer who attempts to argue that the whole plan smacks of some sort of white colonialism coming from Western countries because the targets are in the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean. The headline of Matthew Rodriguez's piece is "Trump's Plan to Decriminalize Homosexuality Is an Old Racist Tactic." Mind you, a significant amount of anti-gay animus in some non-Muslim African and Caribbean countries is a result of the spread of certain strains of Western Christianity to these countries. It was colonialism that arguably pushed anti-gay attitudes on some of these countries and encouraged them to treat their gay and transgender inhabitants as evil threats. It's just a remarkably stupid, shortsighted argument for a gay outlet to suggest that anti-gay governments should not be subject to criticism on the basis of the race or ethnicity of their leaders. The gay press has regularly reported on the violence and abuse foisted on LGBT people in these countries.
But that's not even the real punchline here. The actual punchline is that the United States had already signed onto a United Nations declaration that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality years ago. NBC News is not accurate in calling this a new push, though the motives may be shifting.
President Barack Obama's administration, just months after he came into office in 2009, signed onto a United Nations statement condemning human rights violations against LGBT folks and opposing the criminalization of LGBT behavior. It had come around during President George W. Bush's administration, and he didn't sign it at the time because he was concerned that it was an attempt to override states' rights on issues like marriage recognition. Bush was widely criticized by LGBT groups for not signing onto the declaration. The U.S. was the only Western country to decline back then.
The Hill followed up on NBC's reporting yesterday, and a State Department representative makes it very clear:
"This really is not a big policy departure," [spokesman Robert] Palladino told reporters. "This is longstanding and it's bipartisan."
When asked whether he would describe the meetings as a "new initiative," Palladino replied: "I would say that this is a good opportunity to listen and to discuss ideas about how the United States can advance decriminalization of homosexuality around the world. And that's been our policy."
So just to be clear here: Trump is being yelled at by some LGBT voices for continuing on a policy implemented by the Obama administration. And the Obama administration's move was a widely lauded reversal of Bush's rejection, and Bush's rejection of this very same declaration was previously attacked by LGBT leaders.
Trump has shown himself to be a very transactional political leader. His support for policies is often tied to what he stands to gain politically from their implementation. This is hardly new for a politician—it's just that it's extremely obvious when it comes to Trump. He's not empathetic and he's not very good at pretending to care about things that he obviously cares little about. So it's probably very true that Grenell and Trump want to use this policy to try to attack Iran in some way.
The appropriate way to respond to all of these decisions is to grasp Trump's transactional nature. Trump is just flat-out not going to see a relationship between this policy encouraging other countries to decriminalize homosexuality and his anti-amnesty measures that make it harder for people from these very same countries to come to America for safety. And he deserves criticism for that.
But pushing those other countries to decriminalize homosexuality is a positive move that advances human liberty and should be supported. If this policy moves into a space where the U.S. attempts to use coercive tactics or force (military or sanctions) to punish other countries, then that behavior should be opposed. You don't have to support actual aggression against Iran to support a policy calling for better treatment of gay and transgender people there.