September 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Ros-Lehtinen meets LGBT activists from Russia, former Soviet republics
Taras Karasiichuk, Gay Alliance Ukraine, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, Ana Rekhviashvili, Georgia, Identoba, gay rights, gay news, Washington Blade, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Igor Kochetkov, Sphere

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (left) meets with LGBT rights advocates from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia in D.C. on Sept. 18. (Photo courtesy of Alex Cruz)

Florida Congresswoman and pro-LGBT Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Wednesday met with gay rights advocates from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT rights group Sphere, Gay Alliance Ukraine Director Taras Karasiichuk and Anna Rekhviashvili of the Georgian advocacy organization Identoba met with the lawmaker in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol. The three activists, who traveled to the United States for the first time, were in D.C. to take part in an LGBT civil and human rights training sponsored by the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

“During my meetings with these brave LGBT activists, I impressed upon them my firm belief that they must continue their work for equal rights and that I have supported them every step of the way,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Washington Blade on Friday.

Kochetkov was one of the LGBT advocates who met with President Obama earlier this month during the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. The activist told the Blade he was pleased the meeting took place, but claimed Obama said he couldn’t make human rights a priority in U.S.-Russia relations.

Kochetkov said he disagreed with that sentiment.

Countries’ LGBT rights records sparks concern

Ros-Lehtinen’s meeting with the three activists comes against the backdrop of ongoing concern and outrage over anti-LGBT discrimination and persecution Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. A second statute that prohibits same-sex couples and anyone else from a country in which same-sex couples are allowed to marry from adopting Russian children took effect in July.

The aforementioned laws and growing outrage over the Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT crackdown threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Thousands of people in May attacked a few dozen Georgian LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a rally in Tbilisi the country’s capital, to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia. Identoba Executive Director Irakli Vacharadze told the Washington Blade before the IDAHO march that violence against gays and lesbians in the former Soviet republic remains a serious concern.

Russian police on May 25 arrested 30 LGBT rights advocates who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall.

Dozens of advocates on the same day held Ukraine’s first gay rights rally in the country’s capital, Kiev, in spite of an earlier court ruling that banned it. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft is among those who supported the march.

“It’s increasingly difficult for LGBT individuals in Russia, Georgia and Ukraine to live openly and authentically due to the repressive governments that continue to advance policies that are hostile and discriminatory,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade. “These folks just want to live normal lives with their loved ones, but the governments of these nations are either physically harassing them or intimidating them through the legislative process. Responsible nations should condemn these actions and relate to these governments that equality should be for all their citizens and that these human rights abuses will not be tolerated.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s meeting with Kochetkov, Karasiichuk and Rekhviashvili also took place less than two months after she met with Cuban LGBT rights advocates Wendy Iriepa Díaz and Ignacio Estrada Cepero in her Capitol Hill office. The Cuban-born Republican who supports marriage rights for same-sex couples also co-sponsored a bill that Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduced on Thursday that would ensure gay federal employees would have access to employee benefits for their same-sex partners even if they are not legally married.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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