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Trump Keeps Obama’s Top Gay Rights Envoy at State Department

The move is stunning LGBT activists and is expected to anger evangelicals.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27:   Randy Berry (L), the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons, delivers remarks during a reception in his honor with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Ben Franklin Room at the Department of State February 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. The State Department said Berry's responsibility will be to "reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: Randy Berry (L), the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons, delivers remarks during a reception in his honor with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Ben Franklin Room at the Department of State February 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. The State Department said Berry's responsibility will be to "reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Trump administration has decided to keep President Barack Obama’s top advocate for gay rights issues at the State Department in defiance of evangelical groups who called for his immediate expulsion, Foreign Policy has learned.

Randy Berry, the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, is continuing “in his role under the current administration,” a State Department spokesperson said on Monday. The move marks the latest surprise decision by President Donald Trump on gay rights as he juggles the agenda of his staunchly conservative cabinet and top aides, and his cosmopolitan, New York-bred daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“This is really surprising to me,” Ross Murray, the director of programs at GLAAD, a pro-LGBT group, told FP. “I don’t think I can applaud it until I see what his mandate becomes in this administration.”

“But Berry has been really effective in that job,” he said.

Berry, an openly gay career Foreign Service officer whom conservative groups have derided as Obama’s “top gay activist,” became the first person to hold the position in February 2015.

In December, Tony Perkins, the head of the conservative Family Research Council, implored Trump to launch a major purge of pro-LGBT diplomats inside Foggy Bottom. “The incoming administration needs to make clear that these liberal policies will be reversed and the ‘activists’ within the State Department promoting them will be ferreted out,” he said.

The special envoy position was created during the Obama years to fight back against the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people around the globe. Conservative groups have called the office an attempt to “entrench the LGBTI agenda” into the United States government, and accuse it of browbeating countries opposed to gay-friendly school textbooks and same-sex marriage.

Berry repeatedly stressed that his goal was to convince foreign governments to stop violence against gays and lesbians rather than pressure every nation to allow same-sex marriage. “He was mindful not to be heavy-handed or overly colonial,” said Murray, who mentioned his work in countries with less tolerance for LGBT people, such as Uganda and Nigeria.

On Jan. 20, in one of the Obama administration’s final acts, it also named Berry deputy assistant secretary to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Conservative groups blasted that decision as an 11th-hour move to place an LGBT-friendly diplomat in a position that has influence over U.S. policies at the United Nations. The State Department spokesperson said Berry maintains his duties in both roles in the Trump administration.

The spokesperson declined to say why Berry wasn’t reassigned or dismissed last month when a slew of other political and career officials were booted by Trump loyalists. A recently updated State Department organizational chart shows continued vacancies in positions opposed by Republicans on ideological grounds, such as the Special Envoy for Climate Change, a position previously filled by Jonathan Pershing. But Berry’s name and position remain intact.

In recent weeks, Trump has shown himself capable of surprising the LGBT community even as it wages opposition campaigns to oppose his cabinet appointments such as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Earlier this month, Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who have a track record of supporting gay rights, worked to torpedo a draft executive order that would have overturned Obama’s regulations strengthening LGBT rights for federal contracting jobs, according to Politico.

Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, pushed the Boy Scouts of America to be open to gay rights when he served as national president from 2010 to 2011. In 2013, while he served on the executive board of the Scouts, it rescinded the ban on gay scouts. During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson declined to say whether “gay rights are human rights.”

The Family Research Council did not respond to a request for comment.

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John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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