WHITE HOUSE - An LGBTQ rights group expressed skepticism Thursday of a reported campaign by the Trump administration to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, after President Donald Trump expressed no knowledge of the plan.
"We have a lot of questions about their intentions and commitments and are eager to see what proof and action will follow," said Jeremy Kadden, senior international policy advocate with the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.
Kadden added that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have "turned away LGBTQ people fleeing violence and persecution and sent them back to countries that criminalize them, and have consistently worked to undermine the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people and our families here at home from day one."
Jerri Ann Henry, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a nonprofit organization representing LGBTQ conservatives, said, "I hope [Trump's] comments were just a mistake. If they were not, that would be extremely disappointing."
Henry added she would be watching closely to see that this plan "includes real action."
NBC on Tuesday first reported the administration's campaign to end criminalization of homosexuality worldwide.
In an interview with NBC, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell announced the campaign and said the administration had strong backing for the plan at home from Republicans and religious conservatives.
Grenell, rumored to be a candidate for the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the highest-profile openly gay person in the administration.
Trump: Which report?
When VOA asked the president Wednesday about the decriminalization campaign, he appeared to have no knowledge of it:
If you were skeptical about the Trump-Pence administration%27s sincerity in pushing for global decriminalization of homosexuality, here%27s video of Donald Trump 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐢𝐭. pic.twitter.com/5zfZwOnf3R— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) February 21, 2019
"I don't know which report you're talking about," Trump said. "We have many reports."
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino acknowledged that Grenell had a "strategy meeting" with European LGBTQ activists, calling it "a good opportunity to listen and to discuss ideas about how the United States can advance decriminalization of homosexuality around the world."
Grenell had invited activists from the LGBTQ community in Europe, including the Lithuanian Gay League, to a dinner at his Berlin residence Tuesday to discuss the issue.
On Twitter, the Lithuanian Gay League called on European Union member states to "support the U.S. government global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality," and thanked Grenell for "leading this human rights effort."
LGL calls upon Lithuania and other EU Member States to support the US Government global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality in dozens of nations, where it’s still illegal. Thank you Ambassador @RichardGrenell for leading this human rights effort. pic.twitter.com/6GM725SB7A— LithuanianGayLeague (@LGLLithuania) February 20, 2019
?The White House has not responded to VOA about whether the president was briefed on the initiative. The State Department did respond to VOA's query but was elusive about Trump's having been informed, or whether there had been coordination with the White House on the matter.
Campaign against Iran?
Earlier this month, Grenell wrote an op-ed column in a German publication condemning a public hanging of a gay man by the government of Iran, calling it a "wake-up call for anyone who supports basic human rights."
Sexual intercourse between two men is punishable by death in the Islamic Republic.
The timing of Grenell's column and his push to globally decriminalize homosexuality has fueled speculation that the motive behind the campaign is to get European allies to further isolate Iran, Washington's geopolitical foe.
"I think the concerns that have been raised stem from the apparent instigating execution in Iran," Henry said, adding that she wanted to see all countries held accountable, not just Iran.
The administration has often condemned what it calls the Iranian regime's acts of oppression against its own people, and has made getting tough on Iran the centerpiece of its foreign policy.
In Out magazine, a monthly LGBTQ publication, journalist Matthew Rodriguez wrote, "Rather than actually being about helping queer people around the world, the campaign looks more like another instance of the right using queer people as a pawn to amass power and enact its own agenda."
The administration has a less than stellar reputation with the LGBTQ community.
According to the Trump Accountability Project, a media-monitoring effort that catalogs anti-LGBTQ statements and actions of Trump and his associates, the administration has issued "more than 94 attacks against LGBTQ Americans in policy and rhetoric" since Trump took office.
VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report.