“President Trump is the most pro-gay president in American history. I can prove it.”

— Richard Grenell, former acting director of national intelligence, in a video released by the Log Cabin Republicans, Aug. 19, 2020

Grenell is a longtime spinmeister who under President Trump became a controversial ambassador to Germany. (The influential Der Spiegel magazine described him as “politically isolated” after he was accused of interfering in domestic politics.) He was briefly the acting director of national intelligence and now advises the Republican National Committee.

He makes the provocative claim that Trump — whose administration is often criticized by gay rights advocates as anti-gay — is actually the most pro-gay president in U.S. history. But the core of the video is actually a lengthy attack on Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, as anti-gay.

The video is a stew of misleading timelines, out-of-context quotes and claims easily debunked. Let’s take a tour through it.

“As a United States senator, Joe Biden said gay people couldn’t receive security clearances because we would be a security risk. Joe must have been terrified when Donald Trump appointed me as acting director of national intelligence.”

This is a ridiculous leap in the timelines. The first sentence refers to a comment made by Biden as a newly elected senator in 1973, nearly half a century ago. He was asked during a neighborhood meeting about anti-gay civil service regulations. “My gut reaction is that they are security risks, but I must admit I have not given this much thought,” he responded. “I’ll be darned!” (Note that while Grenell asserts that Biden spoke about security clearances, the question was about civil service regulations.)

Obviously, it was different era — Grenell was only 7 when Biden made the offhand remark — but Grenell asserts that Biden, now regarded as a champion of gay rights, would have been “terrified” when Grenell was named to the DNI post this year because Grenell is gay. That’s absurd.

“Joe Biden certainly didn’t congratulate the appointment or even acknowledge it, but his silence was deafening.”

Grenell portrays his three-month, temporary Cabinet-level appointment as a signature moment in the gay rights movement. But it was also highly controversial, even among Republicans, given that Grenell was considered a hyperpartisan GOP operative who had little experience in intelligence matters. “As one of the four authors of the law that created the DNI back in 2004, I care deeply about that position and believe the person needs experience in the intelligence community, which regrettably Ambassador Grenell does not have,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said after Trump appointed Grenell.

“Joe Biden has attacked the LGBT community. As a U.S. senator, Biden supported ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the Defense of Marriage Act. … Biden said again and again that he was against marriage equality.”

Again, Grenell mixes up timelines and facts to confuse viewers. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was a Clinton administration rule adopted in 1993. Bill Clinton had hoped to lift a ban on gays in the military but was forced by Congress to accept a weak compromise under which military applicants were not asked about sexual orientation but still could be kicked out of the military if they were discovered to be gay. Biden was one of 33 senators who opposed inserting the compromise language in a must-pass defense bill and instead wanted to allow the president to set the policy. When that amendment failed, he still voted for the overall bill.

Ultimately, of course, it was the Obama-Biden administration that repealed the policy in 2010. Funny that Grenell does not mention this.

The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, signed by Clinton, defined marriage as being between a man and a woman; Biden was one of 85 senators who voted for it. Again, it was different era, and like many Americans, Biden changed his views. Although Grenell says Biden was against marriage equality, Biden famously declared in 2012 he supported same-sex marriage before even Barack Obama.

The Washington Blade, which covers the LGBT community, noted in 2019 that Biden “fundamentally altered the course of the marriage equality movement” with his statement. “Biden had just come out for marriage equality at a time when same-sex couples could marry in just six states and D.C. and then-President Barack Obama was still in the middle of a years-long evolution on same-sex marriage.” Biden in 2017 officiated a same-sex wedding.

“Now that we’ve made progress, Joe Biden has changed his mind.”

Notice Grenell’s sleight of hand here? He suggests Biden switched on same-sex marriage only because others had already done so. Instead, Biden was the highest-ranking official at the time to endorse same-sex marriage when few others had done so. Earlier, between 2000 and 2009, Biden had voted to block constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, co-sponsored bills that would have prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and was an original co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, later signed into law by Obama. (Shepard’s parents spoke at this month’s Democratic National Convention.)

“Biden voted to cut off federal funds to any school that teaches acceptance of homosexuality.”

In 1994, Biden did vote for a measure that cut funds if a school promoted homosexuality “as a positive life style alternative.” It had been proposed by two Republican senators, Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire and Jesse Helms of North Carolina. But Biden also voted for an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), that blunted the impact of the Smith-Helms measure by denying federal funds to schools that promoted any sexual activity, homosexual or heterosexual.

“Donald Trump is the first president in American history to be pro-gay marriage from his first day in office.”

This is a silly assertion. Trump was also the first president elected after the Supreme Court in 2015 made same-sex marriage legal across the country. It again ignores Biden’s significant role in the marriage-equality debate.

“President Trump fully supported our fight to crush the homophobic and barbaric Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah and the Iranian regime that supports them. While President Trump was denying the homophobic regime money, the Obama-Biden team was giving them billions of dollars.”

Here Grenell suggests policy toward Iran is based on Tehran’s anti-homosexual policies when nothing could be further from the truth; it’s mostly about Iran’s nuclear program. Trump has sought to dismantle the nuclear accord reached by Obama but has made no progress in reaching a new agreement. We have explained many times what Iran received under the accord was Iranian money frozen in overseas accounts; Obama did not “give” its leaders billions of dollars because it was always Iran’s money.

“President Trump began a historic campaign to decriminalize homosexuality around the globe at the United Nations, where he publicly challenged the 69 countries who make being gay a crime to change their laws. … Gay people don’t have to vote Democrat because Donald Trump is the most pro-gay president in American history.”

After all the disingenuous attacks on Biden, the only policy Grenell cites to back his claim that Trump is the most pro-gay president is a campaign at the U.N. to urge other countries to stop making homosexuality a crime. He also asks, “Why did Joe Biden fail to make this issue a priority in his more than 40 years in Washington?”

Apparently, it wasn’t much of a priority for Trump. Grenell personally announced the policy in 2019, but Trump initially told reporters he didn’t know much about it. When he was asked why he was undertaking the policy, Trump replied: “I don’t know, uh, which report you’re talking about. We have many reports.” Meanwhile, a State Department spokesman described the policy as “long-standing,” “bipartisan” and “really is not a big policy departure.”

Indeed, Obama in 2011 issued a presidential memorandum making support for gay rights a foreign policy priority. “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights,” Obama said. While Trump eventually brought up the push to stop criminalizing homosexuality in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, Obama had already made similar remarks in the same forum.

Obama also appointed a special envoy for LGBT and intersex rights in the State Department in 2015. Trump has let the position go unfilled since 2017.

Meanwhile, there are many Trump administration policies that are regarded as anti-gay. Here’s a sampling:

  • Trump signed a law that undercut Obama’s anti-discriminatory protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer contractors.
  • The Trump Justice Department argued a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, again taking a stand against a decision reached under Obama.
  • The Trump administration took a number of steps undercutting rights for transgender Americans, including a ban on transgender troops, removal of anti-discriminatory protections and adopting a regulation that defines gender as a person’s biological sex.
  • The Trump State Department is even appealing a federal judge’s decision that it must recognize the U.S. citizenship of a young girl born via surrogate to a gay couple. Though the couple is legally married, the State Department claims because the daughter was born in Canada to a surrogate, she is “born out of wedlock” and not entitled to birthright citizenship.

With that record under Trump, it’s little wonder Biden has won the support of major gay rights groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

“Plain and simple, Donald Trump has attacked LGBTQ people because of who we are and whom we love,” Lucas Acosta, HRC national press secretary, said in a statement to The Fact Checker. “His administration has sought to allow discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in health care, in employment and foster care, in schools, and even in housing. It’s unconscionable, insidious, and offensive for anyone to call this administration ‘pro-LGBTQ’ when the president, vice president, and those who work for them, have endeavored to systematically roll back our rights and deny us our dignity. The 11 million LGBTQ voters and 57 million voters who prioritize equality when casting their vote are not going to fall for the Trump campaign’s latest attempt to gas light the American public.”

The Advocate, an LGBT-interest magazine, said it gave Biden an “enthusiastic” endorsement because “Biden is running on the most pro-LGBTQ+ platform of any major-party nominee in the history of the United States.” The endorsement discusses some of the votes cited by Grenell but says they must be viewed in context. “You can not have had a career in politics as long as Biden without evolving on a lot of issues along with broader society,” the Advocate wrote.

We sought a comment from a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans, which bills itself as “the nation’s original and largest organization representing LGBT conservatives and straight allies” but did not receive a response.

The Pinocchio Test

Grenell manages to both significantly mislead about Biden’s record and oversell Trump’s. Biden’s positions evolved over the years, but often he was ahead of the general public or other politicians in recognizing gay rights or seeking to thwart discrimination against gay people. Grenell pretends comments from a half-century ago are relevant today.

As for Trump, the only items Grenell can cite in support of his supposedly pro-gay record concern Grenell’s own temporary appointment and a policy announced by Grenell that Trump apparently knew little about. (We’re still not sure why Iran policy gets mentioned as a pro-gay issue.) That’s pretty thin gruel on which to claim Trump is the most pro-gay president in history, especially when Trump has worked actively to undermine protections for the LGBT community that were enacted under Obama.

Trump is pro-Grenell, but that doesn’t mean his administration is pro-gay. Grenell earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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