LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD is asking Rice University in Houston, Texas, not to host a sanctioned anti-gay Russian nationalist who was invited to the United States by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
According to Politico, Bridenstine, a former three-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma, invited Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin to visit NASA’s Houston headquarters and speak at Rice University, Bridenstine’s alma mater, in the spring of 2019.
Rogozin, an outspoken Russian nationalist who once served as his country’s deputy prime minister, was sanctioned and banned from entering the United States beginning in 2014 for his role in Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula that same year.
But in October, Bridenstine told the Russian state news agency TASS that he had “succeeded” in temporarily “removing” Rogozin from the sanctions list so he would be able to enter the country without incident. According to TASS, Bridenstine said he wanted to establish and maintain “strong working relations” with Russia.
Foreign policy skeptics, particularly where Russia is concerned, expressed concern that lifting the sanctions on Rogozin, even temporarily, would undermine efforts to hold Russian leaders accountable. In February, the Trump administration previously waived sanctions for two other Russian officials who came to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Wow,” Heather Conley, an expert on Russia and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, told Politico. “Rogozin is well known for his very destructive public comments about the U.S. What is difficult for me to understand is what is to be gained for giving a sanctioned individual a public platform.”
A NASA spokeswoman defended extending the invitation to Rogozin, even though no plans have been solidified as of yet.
“The U.S.-Russian relationship in space dates back to the 1970s,” spokeswoman Megan Powers wrote in an email. “NASA has historically invited the head of the Russian space agency to visit the United States. Following this precedent, and Administrator Bridenstine’s October visit to Russia to participate in crew launch activities to the International Space Station, NASA invited the Director-General of Roscosmos to visit NASA facilities in the United States and discuss our ongoing space-related cooperation.”
But what GLAAD and other LGBTQ advocates have found most concerning is Rogozin’s history of prejudicial, racist, and homophobic comments. A co-founder of the Rodina political coalition, Rogozin got the party banned from regional elections in Moscow after it aired ads that compared migrants from the north Caucasus region to “garbage.” Earlier that year, several party members in parliament signed a petition calling for Jewish organizations in Russia to be banned. Rogozin later disavowed the petition.
Rogozin has denounced support for LGBTQ rights, tweeting: “It’s not Russia that threatens the West. Its foundations will crash down under the pressure of ISIS and gays.” He called Madonna a “whore” for supporting LGBTQ rights, attacked a Latvian politician for coming out as gay, and criticized LGBTQ singer Conchita Wurst after she won the 2014 Eurovision song contest, saying her win “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”
Other derogatory tweets by Rogozin included: “One shouldn’t confuse their own bum with Columbus…” and one in which he said about a gay couple that “neither of them will have constipation problems.”
Doug Miller, a spokesman for Rice University, said that the university had not extended an invitation to Rogozin to speak on campus, and referred follow-up inquiries to NASA.
“Rice has not invited Rogozin to the campus,” he said. “I don’t know what NASA is working on. … As far as we know, there’s no plan for Rogozin to visit Rice if he visits Houston.”
Nonetheless, GLAAD has called on Rice to cancel any plans to host Rogozin in the future, and cautioned bringing speakers who traffic in hateful or negative statements directed against LGBTQ people.
“Dmitry Rogozin has no business visiting our nation in the first place, much less being offered a speaking engagement at an academic institution,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “This sends an extraordinarily dangerous and discriminatory message to LGBTQ students and other marginalized groups. Rice University should not permit this appearance to take place.”