Obama to meet with human rights, LGBT activists while in Russia

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will meet with several LGBT and human rights activists during his trip to Russia for the G20 conference, a White House source confirmed Monday.

According to reports, participants include veteran human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, and LGBT activists Pavel Chikov and Igor Kochetkov.

Barack Obama

Kochetkov, of the LGBT Network, told The Associated Press that his organization will accept the invitation to meet with Obama in St. Petersburg on Thursday. The St. Petersburg-based advocacy group Coming Out said it also was invited but hasn’t decided yet whether to go.

The White House would not comment on the meeting. However, Obama has frequently met with civil society groups when traveling abroad. In 2009, he met with a group of Russian rights activists while visiting Russia, but this is believed to be the first time a U.S. President’s itinerary will include a meeting with LGBT groups.

The meeting follows a summer of tense relations between the two superpowers, and growing international concern and criticism of Russia’s “anti-gay propaganda law,” signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.

Russian lawmakers say the law doesn’t outlaw homosexuality but merely discourages discussion of it among people younger than 18. However, the law has outraged Russian liberals and some sectors of the international community, just five months before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Russian city of Sochi.

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Last month, in a rare diplomatic rebuke, Obama canceled his Moscow summit with Putin, a move prompted by U.S. anger over Russia’s harboring of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and growing frustration within the Obama administration over what it sees as Moscow’s stubbornness on other key issues, including human rights.

Just prior to cancelling his meeting with Putin, Obama criticized the anti-gay propaganda law during an appearance on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” telling host Jay Leno he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”

Russian officials have publicly stated that the law will remain in effect during the Olympics, while International Olympic Committee officials say they are satisfied with assurances they have received from Russian leaders.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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