Trump administration pushes for end to worldwide criminalization of homosexuality

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell is spearheading a bid by the Trump administration to decriminalize homosexuality in dozens of countries around the world.

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters Tuesday that Grenell and his staff were holding a "strategy meeting" in Berlin with 11 activists from "different countries in Europe." The initiative was first reported by NBC News.

"This really is not a big policy departure. This is long-standing and it's bipartisan," Palladino said. "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."

NBC reported that the push is aimed in part at denouncing Iran over its human rights record. Grenell, who is openly gay, has become the most vocal critic of Tehran among Trump's ambassadorial appointments.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell (RichardGrenell.com)

Earlier this month, Grenell penned an opinion piece in the German tabloid Bild in which he criticized the recent public hanging of a 31-year-old Iranian man accused of violating the country's strict anti-gay sex laws. Iran's state-run media reported that the man also kidnapped two 15-year-old boys.

Grenell wrote that the execution "should be a wakeup call for anyone who supports basic human rights ... Barbaric public executions are all too common in a country where consensual homosexual relationships are criminalized and punishable by flogging and death."

"In Iran, where children as young as nine can be sentenced to death, gay teenagers are publically hanged in order to terrify and intimidate others from coming out," the ambassador added. "Iran’s horrific actions are on par with the brutality and savagery regularly demonstrated by ISIS."

On Monday, Grenell tweeted a response to a video clip of Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addressing the Munich Security Conference in Germany over the weekend. In the clip, Zarif stated: "I’m a human rights professor.  I have taught human rights for over 30 years. So, I have concerns about human rights. I believe human rights need to be respected. I believe human rights for [Iran] is a security requirement, not a moral nicety. It’s a security requirement … respecting their rights, respecting their freedoms is not just a moral obligation for us, it’s a national security requirement for us."

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"A professor who is helping to hang gay students?" Grenell tweeted, adding "criminalizing homosexuality is in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. #totalBS"

A 2017 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found that same-sex relationships are criminalized in 72 countries, most of them in the Middle East, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The report found Iran was one of eight countries in which homosexual activity can result in the death penalty, along with Sudan, Yemen, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and parts of Somalia and Nigeria.