Richard Grenell, a Republican adviser to former President Trump who has criticized the Equality Act and railed against transgender youth rights, was honored on the California Senate floor on Monday in the name of Pride Month.
The recognition of Grenell, who is gay, by California Republicans was protested by members of the state’s Democratic legislative majority, with several lawmakers quietly walking off the floor during the short ceremony honoring him as “the first openly gay presidential cabinet member.”
Grenell is a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and was welcomed by Senate Minority Leader Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee) and Republican Assemblymembers Bill Essayli of Corona, Tom Lackey of Palmdale and Greg Wallis of Bermuda Dunes.
“During Pride Month, we are proud to recognize Ambassador Grenell for his incredible contributions to the state and nation through his extensive public service career,” Essayli said. “Here in the Republican party, we celebrate individual achievements over identity politics.”
Grenell briefly served as the acting Director of National Intelligence for the Trump administration in 2020. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat, also claims the title of being the first openly gay presidential cabinet member, and unlike Grenell, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Grenell has repeatedly espoused right-wing disinformation and has called Trump “the most pro-gay president ever.” He has been flagged by the GLAAD Accountability Project, which tracks anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric among prominent figures.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) was among the members of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus who left the Senate floor on Monday, and viewed the Grenell recognition as in direct response to drag activists honored in the Legislature earlier this month.
State Republicans opposed recognition of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on the Assembly and Senate floors and asked Senate leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) to withdraw their invitation to the Capitol, accusing them of mocking Catholicism. The well-known drag group wears nuns’ habits and has advocated for AIDS victims for decades.
The controversy followed a similar uproar in Los Angeles, after the Dodgers said they would recognize the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence with a Community Hero Award, then rescinded the offer amid criticism from Catholics, and finally reinstated it with a promise to strengthen ties with the LGBTQ+ community.
“This is their way of celebrating Pride, by bringing in a guy who is truly a self-hating gay man, who takes tons of anti-LGBTQ positions,” Wiener said in an interview in the Capitol on Monday. “There are plenty of gay Republicans who don’t do the unhinged things that [Grenell] does. I’m not lumping all gay Republicans together — he is a particularly vile person.”
In a tweet responding to criticism from Wiener, who is also openly gay, Grenell said “it’s an honor to be your enemy” and called him “an apologist for pedophilia and child abuse,” echoing sentiments of unfounded right-wing QAnon conspiracy theories about the state senator.
At a news conference outside the Capitol held by state Republicans to celebrate Grenell, the former Trump administration official lambasted Democratic policies and what he called “the gay left mafia.”
“Inherent in the word ‘tolerance’ is ‘tolerate.’ It doesn’t mean you agree with it, it means that you tolerate someone else’s opinion. That means that you don’t get up and walk out when they are being honored,” he said. “…They just couldn’t be in the same room as someone who annihilates their world view.”
When asked if he believed it was also intolerant that California Republicans left the floor while the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were similarly honored for Pride Month, Grenell said he has liberal friends and that he “doesn’t run out of the room” over differing viewpoints.
The dueling Pride Month events in the California Capitol come as the state maintains among the strongest gay rights policies in the nation and more LGBTQ+ lawmakers are in office than ever before.
Grenell’s visit to the state Capitol came on the same day that the California Assembly approved ACA 5, which, if approved by voters, would repeal a section of the state constitution that states that marriage is between a man and woman. While same-sex marriage is protected at the federal and state levels, the constitutional amendment would reaffirm marriage equality, supporters say.
Other lawmakers who walked off the Senate floor on Monday include Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D-Panorama City), Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and Senate President Pro Tem Atkins.
Atkins, who is openly gay, said that while she and her fellow Democrats “absolutely oppose the toxic polarization that Richard Grenell embodies,” they did not ask that he be uninvited.
“Senate Democrats are strong enough in our beliefs to recognize there are others with different perspectives,” she said.