The White House on Wednesday announced President Obama has cancelled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that had been scheduled to take place next month in Moscow.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement the Kremlin’s decision to grant temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden last week is among the factors that contributed to the decision to cancel the meeting that was to have taken place before the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. An administration official told the Washington Blade that Russia’s LGBT rights record also played a role in Obama’s decision to cancel the talks with his Russian counterpart.
Obama is still scheduled to travel to the G-20 summit that will take place Sept. 5-6.
“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” Carney said.
The announcement comes hours after Obama joined the chorus of those who have blasted Russia over its ongoing gay crackdown.
“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimate them or are harmful to them,” he told Jay Leno during a pre-taped appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”
Gay advocacy groups on Wednesday also presented to the International Olympic Committee a petition with more than 300,000 signatures that urges it to pressure Russian officials to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens.
The petition that All Out and Athlete Ally presented to IOC officials in Lausanne, Switzerland, stresses the organizations stand “with citizens across Russia who are calling on their government to stop the crackdown against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people” ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February. The group also urges the IOC and other global and Russian leaders “to work to eliminate all anti-gay laws and protect all citizens from violence and discrimination” in the country.
Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo; former Oakland Raider Chris Kluwe and Greg Louganis, an Olympic diver who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow after the U.S. boycotted the games, are among those who have endorsed the petition.
Actor Stephen Fry in an open letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge and British Prime Minister David Cameron that he posted to his blog on Wednesday compared the decision to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia to Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Leno told Obama he feels Russia’s anti-LGBT crackdown “seems like Germany with let’s round up the Jews.”
“The International Olympic Committee is being forced by Russia to tell athletes to shut up, but instead they are speaking out,” All Out Executive Director Andre Banks said. “Ironically, the global outcry is transforming Sochi into an amazing platform for Russians and athletes to defy the law and speak out.”
The IOC said in a July 31 statement it has “received assurances” from “the highest level of government in Russia” the broadly worded gay propaganda to minors ban that President Vladimir Putin signed in June will not affect athletes and others who will travel to Sochi.
The Associated Press on Aug. 5 reported the organization is engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with senior Russian officials on the issue. This report comes less than a week after Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told a Russian sports website the gay propaganda law will apply to those who attend the games.
Lady Gaga describes Russian gov’t as ‘criminal’
In addition to the gay propaganda ban, Putin last month signed a second law that bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children. LGBT rights groups and other organizations that receive funding from outside Russia could face a fine if they don’t register as a “foreign agent.”
Authorities in the Russian capital in May arrested 30 people who tried to stage a Pride march outside Moscow City Hall. St. Petersburg officials in June took more than 40 LGBT rights advocates into custody who tried to stage their own Pride event.
Authorities in Murmansk on July 21 arrested four Dutch LGBT rights advocates who were filming a documentary about gay life in Russia.
Reports of anti-gay violence, hate crimes and even ultra-nationalists torturing gay Russian teenagers whom they meet on local social media networks continue to emerge from the country.
The Russian government last week announced it would investigate whether Lady Gaga and Madonna did not secure the proper visas to enter the country last year. Both singers spoke out against St. Petersburg’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors during their concerts in the city.
“The Russian government is criminal,” Lady Gaga wrote on her Twitter page on August 5. “Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom.”
Gay actor George Takei on Tuesday urged the IOC to move the 2014 games from Sochi to another city.
“The IOC must do the right thing, protect its athletes and the fans, and move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia,” he wrote on his blog.
Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein is among those who have urged the U.S. and other countries to boycott the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage and LGBT rights advocates Cleve Jones have also called for a boycott Russian vodka.
A coalition of LGBT sports organizations that includes Outsports.com and Athlete Ally on Aug. 1 announced they oppose a boycott of the Olympics. The Obama administration, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and Russian LGBT rights advocate Nikolai Alekseev are among those who also oppose calls to boycott the Sochi games.
All Out founder describes Sochi boycott calls as ‘premature’
Banks told the Blade during an interview in his Manhattan office on Aug. 2 that he feels calls to boycott the Sochi games are “premature.”
His group continues to work with Coming Out, a St. Petersburg LGBT advocacy group that was fined 500,000 rubles or slightly more than $15,000 for violating Russia’s “foreign agents” law that took effect in 2012. All Out is also working with the Russian LGBT Network.
“What we’re hearing from the groups inside Russia is we should use this opportunity to speak up and to speak out and to challenge the law as opposed to basically punishing Olympians for this law that they had nothing to do with,” Banks said.
Banks added the games provide an opportunity for the U.S. and other governments and international human rights organizations to speak out against Russia’s LGBT rights record in a way he feels the Russian government cannot ignore.
“The Sochi Olympics create this opportunity where actually everyone — these many kind of stakeholders — have an opportunity to say something at the same time about these laws in a way that can’t be ignored,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for the U.S. to take a more aggressive position than they have taken up to now.”