State Department Bars Embassies From Flying Rainbow Flag

The State Department has barred American Embassies from flying the Pride Flag during Pride Month as has been the custom for several years.

Over the weekend, the State Department notified all of the United States Embassies around the world that they were not permitted to fly the rainbow flag during Pride Month:

The Trump administration is rejecting requests from U.S. embassies to fly the rainbow pride flag on embassy flagpoles during June, LGBTQ Pride Month, three American diplomats told 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 LGBTQ 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 undersecretary 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 in 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 is particularly jarring because the ambassador to Germany, 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 LGBTQ event known as Christopher Street Day that occurs on different days in various parts of Europe.


After the publication of this story, the advocacy group GLAAD, tweeted, “Remember last week when President Donald Trump was pretending to celebrate Pride Month?”

Trump’s public declarations of support for LGBTQ 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. 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 LGBTQ people and woman.

Despite this directive from Foggy Bottom, many embassies are finding ways to visibly mark Pride Month:

Despite the Trump Administration’s reported refusals this year to grant permission for U.S. embassies to fly rainbow flags during Pride Month, some diplomats are finding ways to still show their support for the LGBTQ community.

Under the Obama administration, all U.S. embassies received permission to hoist rainbow flags during the month-long celebration. This year, President Trump’s State Department has been denying requests by U.S. embassies around the world to fly rainbow flags on embassy flagpoles during June, according to NBC News. Currently, embassies are permitted to fly the flag on exterior walls or inside the embassies, according to NBC.

The lack of approval to raise a Pride flag alongside Old Glory hasn’t stopped many embassies from displaying rainbow colors or the flag itself.

picture tweeted by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, shows the building’s facade lit up with rainbow lights. The Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, displayed a large pride flag several stories up. The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai, India posted a video of the Consul General speaking in front of an enormous rainbow flag. And the website of the U.S. Embassy in Vienna featured a photo of the Pride flag hanging below the American flag from International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in May.

In Jerusalem, the U.S. Embassy sent a delegation to the city’s Pride parade, according to the Jerusalem Post. Additionally, Randy Berry, the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, tweeted a photo of himself with embassy staff holding up letters spelling “PRIDE 19.”

According to the Washington Post, the policy changed last year, after Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, became Secretary of State. Last year, the Post said all requests to fly pride flags on embassy flagpoles were approved by the State Department.

Some embassies and embassy officials have posted their recognition of Pride Month on social media:

While this is somewhat of a small issue, it is nonetheless a symbolic reminder of the extent to which, despite the President’s claims to be a supporter of the rights of LGBT Americans, this Administration has reversed course on this issue and largely pandered to the desires of the social conservatives that make up a significant portion of the President’s base. The most visible area that this has occurred, of course, has been in the area of transgender rights. Just weeks after the new Administration took office in 2017, for example, the Administration rescinded guidelines that had been sent by the Justice and Education Departments regarding the protection of the rights of transgender students. Later in the same year, the President announced on Twitter that he was rescinding the Obama Administration policy allowing transgender troops to serve in the military. Late last year, the Administration announced a policy change that effectively defines transgender Americans out of existence for purposes of Federal law. Most recently, the Administration asked the Supreme Court to expedite the appeal of the various court rulings against its efforts to repeal the Obama Administration policy on transgender troops. Additionally, while it is quietly backing an effort to lift the ban on homosexuality in nations around the world, the Administration has been noticeably silent about actual cases of mistreatment of LGBT persons in nations such as Saudi Arabia and other allies that still actively oppress their LGBT citizens.

In that kind of environment, it’s not surprising that the State Department would take a petty move like this.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Gender Issues, LGBT Rights, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. DrDaveT says:

    I was going to post a compare-and-contrast comment based on the fact that even the Marriott Hotel in downtown DC is flying a pride flag, but I couldn’t make it work without being potentially offensive to the wrong people.


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