Grenell emails reveal internal discussions of Trump-era policy against the Pride flag

Latest State Department emails obtained by the Washington Blade through its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal internal deliberations within the Trump administration over reporting on the poster ban Pride flags on the official pole of American embassies.

Former US Ambassador Richard Grenell, whose emails are wanted by Blade as the public face of a global initiative that has pledged to decriminalize homosexuality, is shown repeatedly in communications ordering his aides to the Berlin embassy not to make any comments to the media, including in response to a Blade-era inquiry, about the flag policy for embassies.

“Thank you. Don’t say anything. I work in-house,” Grenell replies in a chain of emails after being updated on the latest media requests, which included requests from ABC’s Conor Finnegan, Huffington Post , Buzzfeed and CBS.

It’s unclear what, if anything, Grenell was doing ‘in-house work’ as news broke that embassies were barred from flying pride flags on the official mast, or even if he was looking for substantive change rather than crafting talking points to tone down the appearance of the Trump administration being anti-LGBTQ.

“No Fox or local German press, but I suspect the latter will come today once they wake up and read some more stories,” writes Joseph Giordono-Scholz, who handled relations with the media for the embassy. “Will continue as discussed, no replies.

In 2019, shortly after Grenell announced he would lead a global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality on behalf of the Trump administration, US embassies that had sought to raise the rainbow flag in recognition of June as Pride Month were prevented from doing so at the direction of the State Department.

Critics at the time jumped on the policy as further proof that the Trump administration was anti-LGBTQ, despite having recently launched the decriminalization initiative. Trump advocates pointed out that the ban was limited to the official flagpole, that it was a blanket ban on flying any flag other than the American flag, and that embassies had found other ways to display the pride flag on their home turf.

Grenell did not respond Tuesday to the Blade’s request for comment on what “working internally” means, but Log Cabin Republicans, an organization close to Grenell, sent a message shortly after the Blade sent its investigation.

Charles Moran, chief executive of Log Cabin Republicans, said in the email that the idea that the Trump administration has banned Pride flags in embassies is misguided.

“We were very pleased that President Trump made it clear that Pride flags could continue to fly at embassies around the world, despite internal logistical discussions at the State Department,” Moran said.

Attached to the email is an image of Moran standing under a pole with both an American flag and a rainbow flag, which Moran says was taken at the US Embassy in Berlin. on July 26, 2019, while visiting a decriminalization discussion forum being hosted there.

Asked by the Blade whether this was the official pole, Moran replied, “I don’t know what an ‘official pole’ is. It was a professionally installed flagpole on the embassy next to the front door. Moran did not respond to an additional follow-up question about what he meant by Trump, making it clear that pride flags would be allowed in embassies.

Then-State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus defended former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s policy against Pride flags as she acknowledged “the Pride Month we are currently experiencing being celebrated in around the world by many State Department employees, by many embassies.”

“The secretary’s position is that, as far as the flagpole is concerned, only the American flag should fly there,” Ortagus said.

The email chain within the U.S. Embassy in Berlin about the development of the news began with Giordono-Scholz forwarding Grenell a link to a story by NBC News’ Josh Lederman, which uncovered the story about the inability of US embassies to fly Pride flags, followed by a subsequent email with the text of his article. The immediacy with which the assistant sends the link in an email before the story itself in a later message suggests a sense of urgency in the distribution and awareness that the article would be forthcoming.

Other outlets were quick to follow, including The Blade, as evidenced by Giordono-Scholz’s follow-up question to Grenell after sharing the initial NBC News story.

“CNN (Michelle Kosinski) just called, asked if we had anything to add,” Giordono-Scholz wrote. “Wash Blade just emailed as well. How would you like me to respond to these and future inquiries – just direct them to the NBC statement you gave and refer questions to DC about the Department ? “

Grenell was succinct in response: “Don’t say anything. For now, don’t answer.

Giordono-Scholz acknowledges Grenell’s instructions in a subsequent email, which also informs him of an investigation by Carol Morello of the Washington Post.

“I will continue to notify you of inquiries, but will not respond to them,” Giordono-Scholz writes.

The emails were obtained in a State Department FOIA production this week following a lawsuit filed by The Blade with attorneys from the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. The litigation was filed in August 2021 after interminable delays in producing the communications, which the Blade originally requested through a FOIA request in September 2020.

The State Department has identified tens of thousands of potentially responsive emails at Blade’s request and is expected to periodically release those it deems responsive following an agreement in the litigation.

Communications on other foreign policy topics, including the Nord Strom 2 pipeline and Iran’s seizure of tankers, are also trapped in the latest email dump. Many of these emails reveal a preoccupation with using tweets as a tool to convey foreign policy messages with little other mention of engagement.

“Watching. Already tweeted about it ;)” Grenell responds when an aide informs him that Iran has seized tankers.

Evyenia Sidereas, Minister Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Berlin, responds, “My twitter alerts can’t keep up :),” prompting Grenell to respond, “I’ve been a little busy today. MDR.”

The focus on Twitter is also visible after an aide in May 2019 brought to Grenell’s attention that Kenya’s High Court upheld the country’s law against homosexuality. An aide (whose State Department name was redacted in the email) informs him that then-US Ambassador Kyle McCarter is to have a meeting with staff “to discuss whether he will issue a statement” and that the Embassy in Nairobi informed the State Department. pending further guidance.

“I’m going to tweet about this one too,” Grenell says. “Can you make a suggestion and I’ll tweet Hungary today. Kenya tomorrow. (It’s unclear what the reference to Hungary was about.)

In terms of the discussion at the US Embassy about Kenya’s decision, all that was considered apparently did not bear fruit. The Blade did not immediately find any public statement on McCarter’s Kenyan move as US ambassador under the Trump administration. McCarter did not respond to Blade’s request for comment for this article.

In 2018, McCarter was grilled during his Senate confirmation hearing on his record as an Illinois state legislator who opposed LGBTQ rights, including his vote against an anti-bullying measure after stating that he thought it would promote homosexuality. McCarter also had a history of misogynistic tweets and in 2016 tweeted, “Hillary for Prison. Not really.”

Much of the focus on the Trump administration’s global initiative seemed to be on Iran, which has been an antagonist on the world stage and even more so after Trump pulled out of the Iran deal. . Iran is also one of the countries where homosexuality is not only criminalized, but punishable by death.

Although Grenell publicly disputed that Iran was the focus, he was quick to provide a quote to his aide demanding a response after the country’s foreign minister asserted his anti-gay policy. in response to questions from a reporter from a German newspaper.

“The UN Declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that these Iranian regime responses violate fundamental UN principles,” Grenell writes. “UN members must agree to the Declaration to be members. Criminalizing homosexuality violates the Declaration, plain and simple.

Grenell’s response was later found online in a Jerusalem Post article, which covered the reaction to the news in an article titled “Iranian FM Affirms Right to Execute Gays, Criticizes US and Israel.”

Comments are closed.