Richard Grenell, formerly the highest-ranking out gay official in the Trump administration, has joined a law firm founded by Pat Robertson that has a history of opposing LGBTQ+ rights.
Grenell will be special adviser for national security and foreign policy at the American Center for Law and Justice, based in Washington, D.C. He was previously acting director of national intelligence, making him the first out gay person to hold a Cabinet-level position, and before that was U.S. ambassador to Germany. He recently joined the Republican National Committee to do outreach to LGBTQ+ voters, and he addressed the Republican convention last week, spreading debunked conspiracy theories about the Obama administration spying on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, along with other lies.
Robertson, the virulently anti-LGBTQ+ televangelist, founded the ACLJ in 1990 to counter the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and other liberal-leaning legal nonprofits. Much of the ACLJ’s work in the 1990s and early 2000s involved fighting marriage equality.
It helped draft the Defense of Marriage Act, the law passed in 1996 that denied federal government recognition to same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to such marriages performed in other states, therefore depriving same-sex couples of many of the rights associated with marriage. The portion of the law involving the federal government was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, and the remainder was invalidated when the high court ruled for nationwide marriage equality in 2015.
It challenged the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that made that state the first one with marriage equality, and it fought efforts for marriage equality in California, the District of Columbia, and elsewhere. Jay Sekulow, its chief counsel and a lawyer for Trump (he was involved in Trump’s defense when the president was impeached), has advocated amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and testified before Congress that such marriages are harmful to children, saying they “are hurt when either the father or the mother is absent.”
The idea that children need a parent of each gender is a frequent right-wing talking point used to avoid seeming hostile to LGBTQ+ people, but elsewhere Sekulow has made his hostility clear. In the 1996 book From Intimidation to Victory: Regaining the Christian Right to Speak, he wrote of “the sordid gay life-style” and accused a high school teacher of seeking to “recruit students into the ranks of the gay community.”
The ACLJ filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting antisodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case that ended up overturning all such laws in 2003. Of that decision, Sekulow wrote, “By providing constitutional protection to same-sex sodomy, the Supreme Court strikes a damaging blow for the traditional family that will only intensify the legal battle to protect marriage and the traditional family.” He also has contended that including LGBTQ+ people as a protected class in hate-crimes laws is a “dangerous trend” that “chills free speech.”
More recently, the ACLJ’s work has focused on persecution of Christians in other countries and on fighting the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate. But it has supported the Trump administration’s efforts to expand the role of faith-based nonprofits in federal contracting — and such nonprofits often discriminate against LGBTQ+ people — and through its offices in Europe and Africa has worked with anti-LGBTQ+ governments, including that of the late Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The organization has praised Russia’s law against “gay propaganda.”
The Human Rights Campaign pointed out that some of ACLJ’s work and Robertson’s positions are diametrically opposed to what was supposedly one of Grenell’s missions for the Trump administration, decriminalizing homosexuality abroad. HRC President Alphonso David released the following statement:
“‘Gaslight Grenell’ strikes again. From ridiculously and errantly calling Trump the ‘most pro-gay president in history’ to now joining the anti-LGBTQ American Center for Law and Justice, it’s clear ‘Gaslight Grenell’ has absolutely no backbone and no regard for the rights of LGBTQ people.
“‘Gaslight Grenell’ is now propping up an organization infamous for working in Africa to criminalize homosexuality and put LGBTQ people in prison for being who they are. He is working for an organization founded by a man that said allowing people like Grenell to join the Boy Scouts would be letting in ‘predators’ and ‘pedophiles’ who could not be ‘good role models.’ ‘Gaslight Grenell’ has no basis in reality to claim himself a ‘spokesperson’ for any segment of our community. Voters will not be fooled by his role as a Trump messenger. ‘Gaslight Grenell,’ like Trump, is divorced from reality. It’s no wonder they seem to get along so well.”
In an ACLJ press release announcing his appointment, Grenell said, “I’m excited to be joining the ACLJ. I have admired their work for years. This group has been instrumental in defending religious freedom here and around the world, and upholding the Constitution. Two issues that I also consider of utmost importance, especially as faith and liberty continually fall under attack. I look forward to being a part of their incredible organization.”
The release did not mention that Grenell is gay and in a relationship with a man. Grenell also did not mention his gay identity when he addressed the Republican convention. In the video below, Sekulow interviews Grenell, who talks about the importance of “being yourself.”