Russian LGBT Network Chair Meets Barack Obama

In the afternoon September 6, the US President Barack Obama met with Russian human rights defenders in St. Petersburg. This meeting was held as part of the US President’s visit to Russia for G20 summit. Mr Igor Kochetkov, Chair of the Russian LGBT Network, participated in this meeting with the US head.

Nine human rights defenders altogether were present at said meeting with the US President in Crowne Plaza hotel located in the area of the Pulkovo-2 airport, among others, Ms Olga Lenkova of Coming out LGBT organization; Mr Boris Pustyntsev, Chair of Citizens Watch nongovernmental human rights organization; Mr Dmitry Makarov, Co-Chair of International Youth Human Rights Movement Coordination Board; Mr Pavel Chikov, Head of Agora human rights organization, etc. Not everyone managed to come as the date and the time have been changed several times.

The meeting took about one and half hours, and the human rights defenders managed to discuss various important issues, in the first place, oppressive legislation: ‘foreign agents’ law, law banning the ‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations’, ‘safe Internet’ law, etc. Issues of supremacy of the law and independence of the court system in Russia, pressure on civil activists and human rights defenders in general, and other issues were also discussed.

The President himself talked mostly about human right defense in the US. His message in this regard was that there are no perfect societies in the world. He said that if not for Martin Luther King’s famous I Have A Dream speech, he would not be working as the President now, but as a shoeshiner. Mr Obama remembered that drastic changes in LGBT rights happened in the US only during the recent ten to fifteen years, and earlier LGBT used to be discriminated in the same way as in the remaining part of the world, Russia included.

Mr Kochetkov’ proposal to create some certain mechanism that enables international monitoring of hate crimes which are not investigated in Russia can be deemed as one of the outcomes of the meeting. The other is the requirement to Mr Obama to show greater ‘integrity in public assessment of human rights situation in Russia’. However, the US President in reply to the question about priority of human rights at such summits as G20 claimed that he cannot promise that all further relations with Russia would be considered in terms of human rights as different issues that are of same importance also exist.

Mr Kochetkov, Chair of the Russian LGBT Network, believes that the main outcome of the meeting with Mr Obama came up even before this exact meeting when the President of Russia Vladimir Putin affirmed that he has nothing against meeting with LGBT activists.

Mr Kochetkov: ‘On the one hand, human rights are no state’s internal affair, and discussion thereof by world leaders is a necessary thing, among other things, for provision of international monitoring of the situation. On the other hand, I would like to discuss what is going on in Russia, what affects gays and lesbians, too, with Russian authorities, and they did not want to do this.’