The Trump administration recently launched a campaign to support the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, spearheaded by openly-gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. That’s how it’s been framed, at least.
It was announced that Grenell would meet with eleven European activists in Berlin to coordinate a plan to eventually decriminalise homosexuality worldwide. 73 countries still have laws against same-sex relationships and sexual intercourse, particularly in Africa and the Middle East; several countries impose the death penalty for gay sex. It was reported that this new campaign was sparked by the recent execution of a gay man in Iran.
This isn’t an entirely new policy, however. The support of global LGBTQ rights was initiated under Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as Secretary of State. Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department, Robert Palladino, confirmed this when he was asked about Grenell’s ‘new’ campaign soon after the story broke: “It’s – this really is not a big policy departure. This is longstanding and it’s bipartisan.” Adding, “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.” Yet, right-wing news outlets are already touting this as a progressive Trump initiative, arguing that he is following through on his empty campaign promise to be a pro-LGBTQ president.
What’s interesting about this story is Trump’s reaction to the news when it was brought up during a recent Q&A with reporters. When asked, “Mr. President, on your push to decriminalize homosexuality, are you doing that? And why?” the president had no answer: “I don’t know which report you’re talking about. We have many reports. Anybody else?”
This therefore seems like yet another example of Trump’s administration—rather than President Trump himself—doing something productive and progressive. In fact, his administration is managing to push for the support of LGBTQ rights despite Trump, rather than because of him, exploiting his lackadaisical and ignorant style of governance. Meanwhile, House Republicans are happy to placate him, despite this, fearing that otherwise they might lose the support of Trump’s core base. No doubt he’ll be happy to claim ownership of this move if it proves successful, or readily dismiss it entirely if he needs another liberal cause to throw under the bus in order to gain support amongst his base.
There’s also a problematic hypocrisy to this campaign and the right-wing media’s spin on it—specifically with regards to international LGBTQ rights. Many places that still criminalise homosexuality, particularly throughout Africa and the Caribbean, do so because of colonial-era laws exported by evangelical Christians. Activist Eliel Cruz explains this succinctly in a recent tweet: “This administration is focusing on decriminalization abroad while being chummy with the evangelical groups whose colonialist imported theology is the foundation for many country’s support of criminalization.” There’s a level of doublethink going on here. Trump wants to have his cake and eat it too. His administration wants to support international decriminalisation of homosexuality while supporting extreme Christian groups who advocate conversion therapy in the United States—a practice which is slowly, and thankfully, being outlawed state by state, while The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would ban the practice on a Federal level, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Ted Lieu.
GLAAD—the American non-governmental media monitoring organisation founded by LGBTQ people in the media—runs an ongoing Trump Accountability Project (TAP), a catalogue of “the anti-LGBTQ statements and actions of President Donald Trump and those in his circle.” “94 attacks on LGBTQ people in 767 days,” reads the headline (at time of writing). Examples include the scrapping of any information about LGBT identities from the White House website on the day of his inauguration, through to the consideration this month of “dissolving the ‘disparate impact’ regulation, which grants marginalized communities (including LGBTQ Americans) legal protections from unintended discrimination in housing, education, and other ways of life,” as reported by GLAAD.
Trump’s inconsistency and ignorance is not just lazy governance, it’s downright dangerous. The President is unaware of significant policy being touted and enacted by his administration—policy that he himself may not necessarily agree with. Obviously, this campaign, in particular, is a positive initiative. That said, while those of us who vehemently disagree with Trump might be glad that his staff are going about their jobs in a productive manner, it sets a worrying precedent. What else might be going on that Trump doesn’t know about?
A domestic war appears to be brewing in the United States over a highly sensitive issue: abortion. While abortion has long been a controversial topic in America, it was, at least temporarily, laid to rest following the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which granted women across the United States the right to abort their pregnancy up until the point of fetal viability, which usually occurs after 24 or 25 weeks. Yet as conservative sentiments have risen in the U.S., a string of laws emerged in various states that seek to prohibit abortion from the moment a heartbeat is detected.
The most recent one, which passed on Wednesday in Alabama, places the harshest restrictions and effectively prohibits and criminalises all cases of abortion in the state. As the turmoil surrounding these laws mounts, experts seek to puncture holes in their scientific soundness, particularly as far as their ‘heartbeat’ arguments are concerned.
The controversial Alabama law—which outlaws abortion even in cases or rape and incest and stipulates that doctors who perform it could face up to 99 years in prison—is merely a hyped-up version of other anti-abortion laws instituted by six other states and is in the pipeline in fourteen others. All such laws mark the point of ‘heartbeat detection’ as an indication of fetal viability of an “unborn human individual.” This language though is highly misleading, particularly the usage of the terms ‘human individual’ and ‘viability’.
At the point when fetal viability is first detected, roughly six weeks into the pregnancy, the ‘unborn individual’ is on average a three-to-four millimetre concentration of cells, making it even more understandable why many question the validity of referring to this creature as a human being.
Yet particularly problematic is the law’s usage of the term heartbeat, which at the six-week mark-up constitutes more of a basic electrical activity of cell clusters. “At six weeks, the embryo is forming what will eventually develop into mature systems. There’s an immature neurological system, and there’s a very immature cardiovascular system,” Jennifer Kerns, an ob-gyn at UC San Francisco tells WIRED. Kerns goes on to state that the rhythm referred to by the heartbeat bills is in fact “a group of cells with electrical activity. That’s what the heartbeat is at that stage of gestation.” Adding that “We are in no way talking about any kind of cardiovascular system.”
Opponents of the bills highlight the countless negative ramifications they will have on women. Firstly, many women are still unaware of their pregnancy within the first six weeks (when a heartbeat is detected), and so female residents of states like Alabama, Ohio, and Georgia will get no chance whatsoever to abort their pregnancy. And the linguistic ambiguity of some of the laws would criminalise the termination of pregnancies that pose a health-risks to the mothers once a heartbeat is detected, and even go so far as prosecute mothers who experienced a miscarriage. The heartbeat laws are also predicted to disproportionately affect women of low-income backgrounds, as they are the least likely to be able to afford to travel and abort their pregnancy outside of the state.
Let us make one thing crystal clear: this is not a righteous crusade to protect innocent lives by benevolent lawmakers. This is a calculated and deliberate attack on women—on their right to sexual and personal independence. It is an aggressive rebellion launched by men and women who dread the prospect of female liberation, agency, and advancement. It is evident, for instance, in the countless other bills that surface alongside the heartbeat laws that attempt to cripple women, such as the one in Ohio seeking to ban access to birth control pills and IUDs.
In 2019 alone, over 300 anti-abortion bills were drafted across the United States. While some have already been challenged in court—as will the ones currently being passed—by organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood, it is unclear what their fate will be. Given the Supreme Court’s increasingly conservative make-up, it is certainly possible that while deliberating on one of those bills its majority will decide to overturn its landmark 1973 decision and officially re-open the door to abortion bans.
Americans can no longer afford to view this as a ‘women’s issue’ exclusively. This is a race issue; it is a class issue; it is an LGBTQ issue; it is a human rights issue, and it warrants a collective reaction.