Obama meets with Russian LGBT activists, calls work 'critically important'

Posted by Justin Snow
September 6, 2013 3:29 PM |

Obama WH 4999505200_cf4621f839_z.jpg

President Obama concluded his visit to St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit by meeting with several Russian activists Friday, including representatives of Russia's LGBT community.

The meeting lasted little more than an hour and was Obama's last stop before departing for Air Force One and his trip back to Washington. 

"[A]ll of these leaders, ranging from business leaders to youth leaders to environmental leaders, those who are advocating on behalf of a free press, the rule of law, all of them contribute in one way or another to continuing to strengthen Russian society and helping to make progress on behalf of all people," Obama said before heading into the civil society roundtable meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Stating the work of such activists was "critically important" to an open society, Obama added, "I think it is important for us to remember that in every country -- here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe -- that part of good government is making sure that we're creating a space for civil society to function effectively: freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about."

Their discussion was expected to focus on the role civil society plays in promoting human rights and tolerance and was attended by nine representatives of organizations supporting causes that include LGBT rights, human rights, the environment and free media. Among them was Igor Kochetkov, director of the LGBT Network, and Olga Lenkova, spokesperson for Coming Out, according to the White House. The meeting comes amid international outcry over Russia's new anti-LGBT law prohibiting "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." Details about what was discussed in the meeting were not immediately available.

Yesterday, 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. 

The White House transcript of Obama's full remarks follows:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I just want to say thank you to all the participants in this roundtable.  This is an incredible and very diverse group of civil society leaders.  And this is something that I really enjoy doing at every country that I visit because it is my firm belief that a country’s strength ultimately comes from its people and that as important as government is -- and laws -- what makes a country democratic and effective in delivering prosperity and security and hope to people is when they’ve got an active, thriving civil society. 

And all of these leaders, ranging from business leaders to youth leaders to environmental leaders, those who are advocating on behalf of a free press, the rule of law, all of them contribute in one way or another to continuing to strengthen Russian society and helping to make progress on behalf of all people. 

And the same is true in the United States.  I’m now in government, but I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community.  And the work I was doing was helping poor communities have a voice in what was happening in their lives.  And I got elected as President by engaging people at a grassroots level.

So the kinds of activities that are represented here are critically important to Russia’s development, and I’m very proud of their work.  And I think it is important for us to remember that in every country -- here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe -- that part of good government is making sure that we’re creating a space for civil society to function effectively:  freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about.

So I appreciate you taking the time.  I’m not going to do all the talking here.  I want to spend most of my time listening. But I want to thank you again and I hope all of you continue the good work.

[Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.]


Please Leave a Comment