Administration plans push to end criminalization of homosexuality worldwide

The Trump administration is planning to launch a worldwide effort to end the criminalization of homosexuality.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, the highest-profile openly gay person in the administration, will reportedly lead the effort, which will be kicked off in Berlin Tuesday night.

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“It is concerning that, in the 21st century, some 70 countries continue to have laws that criminalize LGBTI status or conduct,” a U.S. official involved in organizing the event told NBC News.

When asked about the NBC report at a briefing Tuesday afternoon, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Grenell met in Berlin with 11 activists from different countries.

"This really is not a big policy departure," Palladino told reporters. "This is longstanding and it's bipartisan." 

When asked whether he would describe the meetings as a "new initiative," Palladino replied: “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.”

The U.S. official told NBC that the plan will likely involve collaboration with other countries who have decriminalized homosexuality, the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The plan is reportedly aimed at denouncing Iran over its human rights record.

Grenell has been a public critic of Iran, but has struggled to convince European nations to reimpose sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation following President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE's removal of the U.S. from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

According to a 2017 report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 72 countries still criminalize homosexuality, including eight where it is punishable by death.

The new campaign will allegedly focus on criminalization, not broader issues such as same-sex marriage.

—Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:51 p.m.