President Obama will meet with LGBT activists during his trip to Russia for the G-20 summit this week, a White House official confirmed to Metro Weekly.
The meeting, which will be held Friday, will include representatives from organizations supporting LGBT rights, human rights, the environment and free media and will focus on the role civil society plays in promoting humans rights and tolerance.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to St. Petersburg, Russia, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the White House thought it was particularly important to include representatives of Russia’s LGBT community due to the country’s recently implemented anti-LGBT law.
"Given our serious concerns with some of the recent laws that have been passed and restrictions on activity for gays and lesbians within Russia, we felt it was important to ensure that we were including their voices in a discussion with the President," Rhodes said.
Asked why the meeting is important for Obama, Rhodes said it was part of a pattern of the United States supporting free civil society abroad.
"I think the United States supports civil society around the world," Rhodes said. "And in countries that we visit, we often go out of our way to express our support for civil society. In Russia, in particular, we've seen negative trends in terms of the freedom of action for civil society in recent years, so it's important for the President I think to demonstrate that the United States and many in the international community believe strongly that a vibrant civil society is a significant asset for all countries."
Russia's ant-LGBT law prohibiting "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 30 and has led to international outcry as the Winter Olympics draw closer. Russian violators of the new law face fines and incarceration, while foreigners also face detention and deportation. Despite international pressure, Russian officials have not promised that athletes and foreign delegations will not be subject to the law when the Olympic games are held in Sochi, Russia, this February.
Obama arrived in St. Petersburg earlier Thursday as U.S-Russia relations remained strained over a number of issues, including Syria, Russia's harboring of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden and the crackdown on LGBT "propaganda." Obama, who canceled a scheduled bilateral meeting with Putin, has said he does not support a boycott of the Winter Olympics, but that 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."
In an interview with the Associated Press earlier this week, Putin dismissed concerns that the anti-LGBT law would be used to punish Olympic delegations.
"I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields," Putin said of Russia's LGBT community. "We have absolutely normal relations, and I don't see anything out of the ordinary here."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported Thursday a Russian lawmaker has proposed a new bill that would deny gay parents custody of their children on the grounds that "nontraditional sexual orientation" is on par with abuse, alcoholism and drug use.
[Photo: Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.]