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In speaking to the United Nations General Assembly today, Donald Trump highlighted his administration's campaign to decriminalize homosexuality around the world -- a noteworthy moment but one that rang hollow to many, given the Trump administration's numerous anti-LGBTQ actions.
"My administration is working with other nations to stop criminalizing of homosexuality," the president said, according to the Washington Blade. "And we stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people who live in countries that punish, jail, and execute individuals based upon sexual orientation."
It's the first time Trump has mentioned the campaign outside of Twitter, the Blade reports. The initiative, announced in February, is being led by Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and the highest-ranking out gay person in the Trump administration. When reporters asked the president about it a few days after the announcement, he appeared not to know what they were talking about. He did mention the campaign in a tweet for Pride Month.
Trump is not the first U.S. president to mention LGBTQ rights at the U.N., the Blade notes -- Barack Obama was. "No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere," Obama said in addressing the General Assembly in September 2011.
In December of that year, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of State, famously told the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, "Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." John Kerry, Clinton's successor at State, advocated for LGBTQ equality around the world as well and appointed the nation's first special envoy for LGBTQ human rights, Randy A. Berry. The envoy position has remained vacant under Trump.
"Trump's speech, however, was likely the first time a U.S. president has explicitly brought up the decriminalization of homosexuality in remarks before the United Nations," the Blade reports. Being gay is still criminalized in about 70 countries.
The speech won praise from the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay conservative group that last month endorsed Trump for reelection. "President Trump is keeping his promises to the LGBTQ community, and for standing up for American values," Managing Director Charles Moran said, according to the Blade.
GLAAD, though, noted that decriminalization efforts had begun during Obama's presidency and that the Trump administration's record provided evidence of its real approach to LGBTQ rights.
The administration's anti-LGBTQ actions include the transgender military ban, withdrawal of guidance on equal treatment of trans students in public schools, and "religious freedom" policies allowing companies with federal contracts to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others who offend company officials' religious beliefs. And in employment discrimination cases the Supreme Court will hear next month, the administration is arguing that all companies have the right to fire people simply for being LGBTQ.
GLAAD further pointed out that Trump has been silent about the persecution of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya and the anti-LGBTQ statements and actions by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed "the Trump of the tropics." Bolsonaro visited the White House this year and lauded Trump's commitment to so-called traditional families.
OutRight Action International, which advocates for LGBTQ rights globally, also criticized Trump's remarks, including his elevation of nationalism over what he called "globalism."
"Throwing in a reference to opposing the criminalization of same-sex relations while at the same time stating that the national supersedes the international, and that tradition and culture are sacred, is one more example of President Trump's hypocrisy," said a statement issued by Executive Director Jessica Stern. "LGBTIQ people across the world, including in the U.S., do not feel safe or protected within their borders and are often attacked under the guise of tradition. In all too many places, international standards have been the only avenue for LGBTIQ people to have our rights recognized, to seek remedy for crimes committed against us, and for pushing nations to accept that human rights belong to all, including, explicitly, LGBTIQ people."