'I don't know': Trump draws blank on homosexuality decriminalization push

Ambassador Richard Grenell said his plan to decriminalize homosexuality is "wildly supported" by both parties.
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By Tim Fitzsimons

A day after the highest-profile openly gay person in the Trump administration revealed his push to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, the president was caught on camera seemingly unaware of the effort.

Richard Grenell, in Meseberg, Germany on July 6, 2018.Axel Schmidt / Reuters file

Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, said Tuesday that he has total support from the administration for his gay rights program focusing on 71 countries where homosexuality is still illegal. But Wednesday, a reporter asked President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, “Mr. President, on your push to decriminalize homosexuality — are you doing that? And why?”

"Say it?” Trump responded.

“Your push to decriminalize homosexuality across the world,” the reporter repeated.

Trump responded: "I don't know, uh, which report you're talking about. We have many reports."

Vice President Mike Pence, on the other hand — who has long drawn criticism from gay rights advocates who argue he has supported policies that are anti-LGBTQ, such as opposing same-sex marriage and gays serving in the military — told NBC News on Wednesday that he is in support of Grenell's recently announced policy.

In a briefing with reporters at the State Department on Tuesday, deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino downplayed Grenell’s new effort, describing it as “long-standing,” “bipartisan” and “really is not a big policy departure.”

“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,” Palladino said.

Many LGBTQ rights groups were skeptical of Grenell's global efforts, noting that a number of the Trump administration's broader policies have attempted to roll back gay and transgender rights in the United States.

“We’d believe that the Trump administration will work to protect LGBTQ people around the world if they had not attacked LGBTQ people in the U.S. over 90 times since taking office,” LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD said.

The Log Cabin Republicans, one of the few right-leaning LGBTQ advocacy groups, praised Grenell's effort.

“By taking this action the administration brings attention to a major human rights violation and positions the United States as the leader to end this injustice,Jerri Ann Henry, the group's executive director, stated.

Grenell was asked about some of the skepticism surrounding his initiative and the Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ rights, such as efforts to eject transgender and HIV-positive people from the military. “Save the other fights for later,” the ambassador responded.

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Tim Fitzsimons

Tim Fitzsimons reports on LGBTQ news for NBC Out.