WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is rejecting requests from U.S. embassies to fly the rainbow pride flag on embassy flagpoles during June, LGBT Pride Month, three American diplomats tell NBC News.
The U.S. embassies in Israel, Germany, Brazil and Latvia are among those that have requested permission from Trump's State Department to fly the pride flag on their flagpoles and have been denied, diplomats said.
Although the pride flag can and is being flown elsewhere on embassy grounds, including inside embassies and on exterior walls, the decision not to allow it on the official flagpole stands in contrast to President Donald Trump's claim to be a leader in supporting LGBT rights overseas. Trump's administration has announced a campaign to decriminalize homosexuality overseas and this month issued a tweet and formal statement to "celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made."
The denials to U.S. embassies have come from the office of the State Department's under secretary for management, Brian Bulatao, a longtime associate of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who also worked for him at the CIA. Under State Department policy, embassies that want to fly the flag on their flagpoles are expected to obtain permission from Washington.
During the Obama administration, the government granted blanket permission to embassies overseas to fly the pride flag during June. This year, U.S. diplomats said, embassies were told they can display the pride flag other places, including inside embassies, but that requests to fly it on the flagpole must be specifically approved. No approvals have been granted.
The denial to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany, is particularly jarring because the U.S. ambassador there, Richard Grenell, is spearheading an administration push to end the criminalization of homosexuality in roughly 70 countries that still outlaw it, as NBC News first reported in February. Grenell, the most senior openly gay person in Trump's administration, has secured support for that campaign from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
"The President's recognition of Pride Month and his tweet encouraging our decriminalization campaign gives me even more pride to once again march in the Berlin Pride parade, hang a huge banner on the side of the Embassy recognizing our pride, host multiple events at the Embassy and the residence, and fly the gay pride flag," Grenell said Friday in a statement to NBC News.
Asked specifically whether the embassy will fly the flag on its flagpole outside the building, just steps from the iconic Brandenburg Gate, embassy spokesman Joseph Giordono-Scholz said only: "The pride flag will be on as many places as it can at the Embassy."
In Germany, pride celebrations continue into the month of July for a European LGBT event known as Christopher Street Day that occurs on different days in various parts of Europe.
Numerous embassies are displaying the pride flag this month in other ways, including the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, which put up a large rainbow banner on the side of the building. It's unclear whether other embassies may be flying the flag on their flagpoles without having sought permission from Washington.
The State Department in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment, nor did the U.S. embassies in Jerusalem and Brasilia. The U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia, referred questions about the flag to the State Department.
The denials by Washington have alarmed U.S. diplomats serving around the world who are LGBT, with several raising the issue this week in a private group chat for members of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, known as GLIFAA, several of the group's members tell NBC News. The board of GLIFAA did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump's public declarations of support for LGBT rights have been sharply criticized by rights groups who say his record since taking office tells a different story.
Earlier this month, a Trump administration rule took effect barring transgender people who have undergone a gender transition or been diagnosed with gender dysphoria from enlisting in the U.S. military. In the U.K. earlier this week, Trump defended that policy by saying that transgender people "take massive amounts of drugs," apparently referring to hormones.
His administration has also rolled back Obama administration rules designed to prevent health care discrimination against transgender people. And human rights groups have expressed concern that a new Commission on Unalienable Rights announced by the State Department this month to guide U.S. human rights policy, which emphasizes "our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights," is designed to de-emphasize efforts to protect LGBT people and woman.
The news comes as pride celebrations are set to take place in Washington over the weekend, with WorldPride taking place in the U.S. for the first time this year, throughout June in New York.