President Barack Obama’s decision to meet with Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists has drawn praise from local LGBT advocates.
Obama has announced that he will meet with human-rights activists, including gay-rights activists, during the G20 summit in Russia this week.
Reaction to Obama’s decision was positive from James Koury, who is gay, served as the City of Oneonta clerk for 21 years and publishes the LGBT-focused Diversity Rules Magazine.
Said Koury, “I think it’s fantastic.”
“I’m glad that Obama is going to meet with the group and hear what they have to say,” said Kathy Ballantine, a Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays member of 15 years who has a lesbian daughter.
One of the motivations for this meeting is a law banning “propaganda” of non-traditional sexual relations among minors that was enacted by Russia in June. The law bans discussing homosexuality or homosexual relationships anywhere children might hear, and imposes hefty fines on those who violate it. The law also applies to foreigners and media organizations.
While the Russian government says the purpose of the bill is to protect minors, critics say that it effectively bans being openly gay in Russia.
Amy Forster Rothbart, an assistant professor of political science at Hartwick College, said that while Russia does have a gay-rights movement, the law is reflective of the country’s culture.
“Russians as a whole are fairly socially conservative,” said Rothbart. “Putin’s measures are broadly popular.”
There have also been reports that violence against LGBT people has been on the rise since the law’s passage.
Said Ballantine, “I’ve read that there are marauding gangs that are targeting gays.”
In a television interview Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to allay concerns over the law, saying that gay people were not discriminated against in Russia.