President Obama Meets with Russian LGBT Activists in St. Petersburg


President Obama met with Igor Kochetkov (above, being detained for 'gay propaganda' in April 2012), Director of the Russian LGBT Network and Olga Lenkova (below), a spokesperson for the St. Petersburg LGBT organization Coming Out for a little more than an hour Friday evening at the Crown Plaza near the St. Petersburg airport with UN ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, and seven other Russian civil society activists, according to a pool report.

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

Obama also said, referring to the activists: "I'm very proud of their work… Part of good government is making sure we're creating a space for civil society."

No further details on the content of the meeting have been provided.

Other activists who met with Obama were Pavel Chikov Chairperson of the Agora Association (Kazan); Yana Yakovleva, Founder, Business Solidarity; Yelena Milashina, Investigative journalist, Novaya Gazeta; Yevgenia Chirikova, Director, Movement to Defend Khimki Forest; Ivan Pavlov, Head, Institute for the Freedom of Information; Boris Pustyntsev, Head, Citizens Watch;  and Dmitry Makarov, Member of the Coordinating Council of the International Youth Human Rights Movement

UPDATE: Obama's remarks at the roundtable, as provided by the White House.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I just want to say thank you to all the participants in this roundtable. This is an incredible and very diverse group of civil society leaders. And this is something that I really enjoy doing at every country that I visit because it is my firm belief that a country's strength ultimately comes from its people and that as important as government is — and laws — what makes a country democratic and effective in delivering prosperity and security and hope to people is when they've got an active, thriving civil society. And all of these leaders, ranging from business leaders to youth leaders to environmental leaders, those who are advocating on behalf of a free press, the rule of law, all of them contribute in one way or another to continuing to strengthen Russian society and helping to make progress on behalf of all people.   

And the same is true in the United States. I'm now in government, but I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community. And the work I was doing was helping poor communities have a voice in what was happening in their lives. And I got elected as President by engaging people at a grassroots level.

So the kinds of activities that are represented here are critically important to Russia's development, and I'm very proud of their work. And I think it is important for us to remember that in every country — here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe — that part of good government is making sure that we're creating a space for civil society to function effectively: freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about.

So I appreciate you taking the time. I'm not going to do all the talking here. I want to spend most of my time listening. But I want to thank you again and I hope all of you continue the good work. 


  1. bobbyjoe says

    I’m glad Obama met with them but I sure hope he said something a little better than what’s quoted here. Giving them a pep talk about having been a “community organizer” sounds like (Godwin’s law be damned in this case) telling Jews in Germany in the 1930s “hey, if you organize a little better and go around knocking on German doors, you’ll be okay.” Uh, no, they wouldn’t, and it’s likewise gonna take a lot more global pressure if we’re going to really try to help Russia’s GLBT population.

  2. kirk says

    should their names really be revealed? esp. for something so lame, i agree with bobbyjoe, sounds like they put their lives in danger and all they were offered in return were some trite trivialities

  3. says

    thank you to President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron for speaking out and being active about the hateful bigoted persecution happening in Russia

    and a great big “DROP DEAD!” to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who hasn’t said or done a damned thing. It’s pathetic that a country with a rich history of understanding and advancing equal rights and actual freedom and equality is currently being led by a bible-thumping wimp who actually resents the culture of fairness and justice that his country has long been known for.


  4. Jeff says

    That’s a little harsh on Harper, Little Kiwi. (I, myself, can’t believe I’m saying that because I’m no big fan of our Dear Leader.) Harper and Baird have both been vocal re their opposition to Russia’s oppressive laws. I don’t know if Harper raised the issue with Putin on this occasion, but he ahs made his opinion known.

  5. says

    Harper’s also voted against any and all LGBT-inclusive protections, nationwide, Jeff.

    Baird has been outspoken, which is rather remarkable given that he’s still living in a Glass Closet…

    But even Harper’s quotes were more of a “well, here in Canada we don’t do that” type of thing. The Prime Minister of Canada has the potential to be a truly inspiring figure: Canada’s legacy of human rights advancements, historically almost-always among the Firsts in the world; and yet his comments are decidedly soft-pedaled.

  6. Patric says

    Susan Rice is the former UN ambassador and is now National Security Advisor.

    BobbyJoe and Kirk, some of you will never be content with anything this President does. His willingness to highlight the oppression of LGBT in Russia by meeting with activists there after having cancelled a meeting with Putin is extraordinary and surely infuriated the Kremlin. We have no idea what was discussed at the meeting and the President has in clear terms before condemned Russia’s treatment of its LGBT citizens. There is a limit to what any U.S. President can do for LGBT people being oppressed by their own governments but this President has done more than any past President and, in Africa and now Russia, has been willing to condemn oppression even while being hosted by a homophobic leader.

  7. MIke says

    Yeah yeah we know you was a community organizer.
    Being ex-KGB, it’s what Vladimir and our enemies were praying for and find so amusing. The downfall of our nation in the name of affirmative action.

    What red line?!
    I don’t see any red line ?!
    Who said red line?!

    So insipiring! Such confidence!

  8. MIke says

    Poor Shove-it. Giving that less than 20 percent of the American people back Obama’s Syria folly, the “racism” charge is just completely stale by now. I’m loving it, the more he opens his mouth the lower the numbers go.

  9. David From Canada says

    Note to Little Kiwi: Expecting Stephen Harper to go over to Russia and talk about gay rights is like expecting a donkey to sprout wings and fly. He is what he is – a donkey without wings. That’s why we need a much more progressive Prime Minister of Canada SOON!

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