Remember Trump’s supposed campaign to decriminalise homosexuality around the world? Unsurprisingly, it’s a ‘sham’


The Trump administration’s professed campaign to decriminalise homosexuality around the world is nothing more than “smoke and mirrors”, leading human rights activists revealed.

The initiative was first announced in February 2019 by Trump’s openly gay ambassador, Richard Grenell. He referenced it again at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday as he praised the president’s “historic campaign to decriminalise homosexuality around the globe”.

But international LGBT+ human rights activists tell a very different story.

A year and a half after the supposed program was launched, it has almost nothing to show for its efforts – and in some countries it has actually lost ground as Trump’s domestic policy agenda undercuts the push for LGBT+ rights abroad.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Julie Dorf, a senior adviser at the Council for Global Equality, summed up the alleged campaign as a “sham” and “nothing more than a series of self-promoting Twitter photos”.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, was similarly critical. “I’m not aware of any major breakthroughs from Ric Grenell’s campaign to decriminalise homosexuality,” she said.

“This is window dressing held up as a major accomplishment by Ric Grenell, with no actual credible victory,” said Lucas Acosta, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign.

“The decriminalisation campaign is smoke and mirrors,” agreed Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

He accused the Trump administration of highlighting an initiative that doesn’t functionally exist as a way to deflect attention from the persistent rollback of LGBT+ protections in America.

“The reality is that the Trump administration has consistently undermined LGBT+ rights domestically and internationally, and the campaign is being used to distract people from that,” he said.

He continued: “The US opposed criminalisation long before president Trump took office – and saying people shouldn’t be imprisoned for being LGBT+ is the bare minimum of what the US should be doing, not a bold endeavour.”

Trump’s early claims to support the LGBT+ community have not played out in reality (George Frey/Getty)

Not a single one of the experts in international LGBT+ human rights policy told The Daily Beast that Grenell’s push to decriminalise homosexuality had led to any tangible results.

Of the 70 countries that still criminalise homosexuality, only two – Botswana and Gabon – have legalised homosexuality since Grenell announced the initiative. And only Gabon’s victory can be attributed to the support of elected officials, as Botswana’s was thanks to local activists who had been battling the courts since 2016.

When questioned at a UN breakout session in December 2019, Grenell insisted the campaign for decriminalisation was genuine and explained that the delays were due to the logistical issues of working with so many countries. “It is a long road,” he said at the time.

But if the campaign is indeed real, it seems Trump isn’t aware of it. When a reporter asked the president about it in February 2019, he asked them to repeat the question before replying: “I don’t know which report you’re talking about. We have many reports.”