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BERLIN -- The American ambassador to Germany plans to lead what his embassy said Wednesday was a new and "specific push" to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide.

The ambassador, Richard Grenell, rumored to be a candidate as the next American ambassador to the United Nations, invited about a dozen gay and transgender activists from around Europe to a dinner at his Berlin residence Tuesday night where the effort was discussed.

Guests from the Lithuanian Gay League posted a photo on its Twitter account showing two members posing with Grenell at the event, thanking him and calling on their country and other European Union members to support the effort, which the Lithuanian guests described as a "Global US campaign."

The State Department in Washington has not announced a new global campaign for gay and transgender rights, raising questions about the official status of the ambassador's plan. A department spokesman described the effort as a continuation of long-standing American policy.

The undertaking by Grenell, the most prominent openly gay diplomat in President Donald Trump's administration, was first reported Tuesday by NBC News.

In recent public statements, Grenell has denounced Iran in particular, among the 71 countries where homosexuality is outlawed, for its persecution of gay people.

But in an interview with NBC, Grenell sought to portray the effort as much broader. "This is not just about Iran," he said in the interview. "This is about 71 countries, and Iran is one of them."

Grenell also declined in the interview to answer whether he was interested in the U.N. ambassador post, which has been vacant for nearly two months. "I serve at the pleasure of the president," he told NBC.

The ambassador was traveling on Wednesday and was unavailable for comment. But the U.S. Embassy in Berlin confirmed in a statement that he had met with the European gay- and transgender-rights activists and that Grenell had viewed the meeting as "the start of a specific push" to decriminalize homosexuality everywhere.

"We are working with European allies on a brand-new launch to decriminalize homosexuality," Grenell told NBC, despite other issues that divide relations between Europe and the United States. He also said he had spoken to senators supportive of using American foreign aid as part of the effort, although he declined in the interview to specify which senators.

Grenell told NBC that the activists from Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria and other European countries had joined him and an Iranian expatriate around a large table to discuss the effort. The ambassador said it would require "71 different strategies."

American-led diplomacy to promote gay and transgender rights internationally expanded under President Barack Obama, well before the Trump administration took office. The U.N. Human Rights Council passed its first resolution establishing gay and transgender rights as human rights in 2014.

David Pressman, a former U.S. diplomat who is a partner at the Boies Schiller Flexner law firm, who helped lead the Obama administration's international gay-rights strategy, said that despite his contacts among groups who work on such issues, he first heard about Grenell's undertaking from news reports.

"What's surprising is that no one who works these issues within the U.S. government appears to be aware of this effort," Pressman said. "No one in the groups who have been engaged on these issues appears to be aware of this effort."

Some leading European rights groups, including the Brussels-based ILGA-Europe, which represents gay and transgender people across the continent, said they had not been invited to the dinner.

A Section on 02/22/2019

Print Headline: U.S. envoy said to begin global push on gay rights

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