Richard Grenell, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany and former acting director of national intelligence, is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night. The Log Cabin Republicans recently promoted a video with Grenell attacking Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s record and claiming that Donald Trump is “the most pro-gay president in American history”—an “absurd claim” that earned four Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s fact-checker.
In a nice bit of timing, Grenell’s video appeared at about the same time the U.S. Agency for International Development was caught purging references to LGBTQ people from a policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment, the latest in a long list of Trump administration moves to reverse Obama-era policies protecting the rights of LGBTQ people.
In the video, Grenell cites decades-old statements by Biden to portray him as hostile to equality—when in fact, Biden played a crucial role in advancing support for marriage equality within the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.
“President Trump has done more to advance the rights of gays and lesbians in three years than Joe Biden did in 40 plus years in Washington,” Grenell says, offering almost no evidence beyond his own appointment to high-level positions.
Grenell does tout one of the projects he undertook as ambassador. “President Trump began a historic campaign to decriminalize homosexuality around the world,” Grenell claimed. In reality, Grenell himself announced that “campaign” in February 2019, and a day after he announced it, Trump appeared not to have even heard about it.
“Also unclear was whether the decriminalization effort was, in fact, new,” the New York Times reported at the time. “A State Department spokesman in Washington, Robert Palladino, queried after the NBC report on the effort was broadcast, said: ‘This really is not a big policy departure. This is longstanding and it’s bipartisan.’”
Grenell did host some activist gatherings in Germany and a December 2019 event at the United Nations, and Trump did include a line about decriminalization in a United Nations speech. But the thrust of administration’s foreign policy initiatives has been headed strongly in the opposite direction of protecting or promoting LGBTQ equality.
In February 2020, when Grenell took his job as acting director of national intelligence, NBC suggested that the campaign had little to show for it, and the Human Rights Campaign said it had seen “no meaningful efforts by this administration to decriminalize homosexuality around the world.” HRC spokesperson Charlotte Clymer called it “another case of the Trump-Pence White House making promises to LGBTQ people, even while they enable discrimination and violence against us at home and abroad.” The Council for Global Equality’s Julie Dorf calls the campaign a “sham.”
But in his Log Cabin video, Grenell asks, “Why did Biden fail to make this a priority in his more than 40 years in Washington?”
The question itself is a breathtakingly dishonest insinuation. In fact, the Obama-Biden administration elevated the protection of LGBTQ human rights, making it an unprecedented priority in U.S. foreign policy, something that so outraged religious-right leaders that they embraced Russia’s anti-gay and anti-democratic strongman Vladimir Putin as the savior of Western civilization. Religious-right leaders were thrilled that the election of Trump would mean an end to LGBTQ equality playing a major role in U.S. foreign policy.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar spent last year fomenting backlash to Obama-era policies and United Nations initiatives in favor of mobilizing a new “pro-family” coalition of nations and arguing for the supremacy of “traditional” religious and cultural views. The administration has embraced anti-equality regimes in Brazil, Hungary, and Poland.
In parallel, Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights created a platform for conservative academics to provide justification for his desire to resist human rights “inflation” and elevate religious liberty above other human rights commitments.
And Pompeo has opened doors in other countries so that anti-LGBTQ Bible study leader Ralph Drollinger could recruit high-level officials to join his “ministry,” which teaches that the Bible requires public officials to support right-wing policies on sexuality and family as well as economic, environmental, and criminal justice issues.
In his video, Grenell disingenuously suggests that the Trump administration’s foreign policy toward Iran had something to do with that regime’s hostility toward gay people. It’s not the first time that anti-Muslim sentiment has been used by right-wing politicians to gain gay support. During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Milo Yiannopoulos and anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller hosted a “Gays for Trump” party whose featured speaker was a Dutch politician who said Islam has “no place in a free society.”
The misleading video ends with Grenell saying, “Gay people don’t have to vote Democrat,” a sign that Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson may be behind the video. Johnson’s video for Democrat-bashing congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik, aso an RNC speaker, ended with, “Black people don’t have to vote Democrat.”