Trump on reports he’s not as anti-LGBTQ as thought: ‘I don’t know which reports you’re talking about’

Just days after the president half-heartedly teased a supposed plan to eradicate HIV over the next decade, this week came the news of a plan to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Once again, the words sounded good on the surface - especially on the global conversation. Criminal sanctions against homosexuality are still an all-too-present reality around the globe, and ending this nightmarish truth should be a decidedly nonpartisan effort. 

But sadly, just as the HIV eradication plan seemed to put recruitment of applause at the State of the Union before a clear and workable roadmap, the Trump Administration’s reported plan to eliminate punishments against homosexuality seem to be another instance of a reasonable goal without a team capable of advancing it.

First came the news report: Richard Grenell, the out gay man who serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany (and who is a rumored candidate for open U.S. Ambassador for the United Nations role), is to work with European activists to coordinate a plan to decriminalize homosexuality across the globe. The narrowly focused campaign, reportedly sparked by the execution of a gay man in Iran, is to involve U.S. Embassies across Europe, as well as the State Department here at home. Again, all makes sense on the surface. 

But let’s stop here and talk about the aforementioned State Department. Even though one would think that department would want to build on the goodwill news reports and provide more details, the department spokesperson met the news of the day by completely and utterly downplaying it as status quo. Check out this exchange that Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino had with a reporter on the very day the news broke: 

QUESTION: LGBT issues.

MR PALLADINO: LGBT issues.

QUESTION: Yeah. Apparently there’s this new push by the State Department to try to get other countries to decriminalize homosexuality. Can you talk about where that is right now and what exactly is this initiative?

MR PALLADINO: I believe you’re referring to a strategy meeting that MSNBC was reporting on out of Germany, and that was in advance of a strategy meeting that Ambassador Grenell and his staff at Embassy Berlin had today with 11 activists from different countries in Europe. It’s – this really is not a big policy departure. This is longstanding and it’s bipartisan.

QUESTION: So this – would you characterize this as some new initiative or something, or is it just a continuation or an intensification of efforts that the State Department does?MR PALLADINO: 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.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

[State.Gov]

Okay, so he’s right about this not really being news. Secretary Hillary Clinton famously used her time at the helm of the State Department to declare that “[LGBTQ] rights are human rights.” The Obama Administration was clear on these goals. And yes, there is a degree of bipartisan support for this common sense idea.

And Palladino is also right that the Trump State Department has done absolutely nothing to intensify this push. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has an intensely anti-LGBTQ record himself, has not made any priority toward furthering the welfare of LGBTQ people. Predecessor Rex Tillerson, despite being viewed as somewhat personally supportive of LGBTQ rights, also never made any waves in this regard. Instead, the administration has turned a blind eye to very real LGBTQ rights abuses in places like Chechnya, despite the outcry from activists.    

But even stranger than the downplaying is how complacent the spokesperson seems when fielding the question. Considering this was big news of the day that had direct concerns and implications for his department, one would think this would have been front and center on his mind when heading into that day’s press briefing. Yet it doesn’t seem to have been on his mind at all. He seems caught off guard by the question.

Which brings us to the President himself. On Wednesday afternoon, just a day after this news broke and conservatives began trumpeting it as “proof” that this anti-LGBTQ administration isn’t really anti-LGBTQ, a reporter asked the Commander in Chief to speak to this supposed priority. This is how that exchange played out: 

Q    Mr. President, on your push to decriminalize homosexuality, are you doing that?  And why?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Say it?

Q    Your push to decriminalize homosexuality around the world.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I don’t know which report you’re talking about.  We have many reports.

Anybody else?

[WhiteHouse.Gov.]

“I don’t know which report you’re talking about.” 

Honestly, do these folks talk to each other?

If the State Dept. spokesperson was dismissive, then the President is simply clueless. Stunningly, stupefyingly clueless. Not only does he not have the capacity or desire to speak to the matter, but he doesn’t even know what the reporter is asking. This is news that was reported in multiple mainstream outlets, yet the President of the United States doesn’t seem to have even the slightest knowledge of it.

If he himself isn’t intellectually curious enough to discover it on his own, you’d at least think his advisors would want the President to be in front of it so that he could take a victory lap here. Since the high profile reports pointed to something with broad support, we’d expect the President to use this as an opportunity to appeal to more mainstream voters. His own son has been using it as “proof” that his father’s not anti-LGBTQ. It’s an easy lift, since there is nothing for anyone to really prove at this early point. The President could have just used this as a free pass to enjoy some of the most favorable press he has received in a long time. 

But he doesn’t even know about it. Let me repeat that slowly: He. Doesn’t. Even. Know. About. It.

It’s offensive enough to be told that this administration, which continually caters to our most extreme opponents and that continues to fight against LGBTQ rights in all branches of government, is supposedly now concerned about LGBTQ welfare. But to have this unearned praise met with such stunning lack of concern by the administration? That is just beyond. It’s like he can’t even be bothered to care.

Which, of course, is just another reason why LGBTQ Americans must continue to care about this, an administration that is so aggressive in fights against us—yet so dismissive in fights to protect us.

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Jeremy Hooper is a writer, activist, and father in New York, NY.

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