Obama meets with gay rights activists in Russia

Sat. September 7, 2013 8:47 AM by Carlos Santoscoy

St. Petersburg, Russia - President Barack Obama met with gay rights activists in Russia on Friday.

The president met with a group of 9 civil society leaders, including some gay rights activists, before returning home at the conclusion of the G-20 summit in Saint Petersburg.

According to a White House pool report filed by Peter Baker of The New York Times, Igor Kochetkov, director of LGBT Network, and Olga Lenkova, spokesperson for Coming Out, were present at the hour-long meeting.

"I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community," Obama said. "I got elected president by engaging people at a grass roots level."

Obama called the work of such activists "critically important" to an open society.

"I'm very proud of their work," he said. "Part of good government is making sure we're creating a space for civil society."

The meeting comes amid heavy criticism of anti-gay laws signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The laws prohibit gay and lesbian couples from adopting Russian-born children and the promotion of gay rights where minors might be present, effectively banning Gay Pride marches and similar demonstrations. Russia's "gay propaganda" law has provoked worldwide outrage and calls to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi.

Obama has previously criticized the law but decried a boycott as "inappropriate."

(Related: Obama: Not appropriate to boycott Olympics over Russian anti-gay law.)

Putin this week dismissed the criticism in an interview with the AP.

(Related: Vladimir Putin says he's not anti-gay; admits Tchaikovsky may have been gay.)

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