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White House Stresses Importance of Ensuring LGBT Groups Meet with Obama in St. Petersburg, Russia

During a press gaggle aboard Air Force One en route to St. Petersburg for the G20, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes was asked by a reporter:

B_obama"Why is it important for the President to meet with representatives of civil society in Russia?  And how much care and thought went into the selection of these representatives of civil society?"

Replied Rhodes, according to a transcript provided to Towleroad by the White House:

"Well, I think the United States supports civil society around the world.  And in countries that we visit, we often go out of our way to express our support for civil society. In Russia, in particular, we’ve seen negative trends in terms of the freedom of action for civil society in recent years, so it’s important for the President I think to demonstrate that the United States and many in the international community believe strongly that a vibrant civil society is a significant asset for all countries.

"Saint Petersburg has also been a longstanding location where there’s been a lot of civil society activity.  I’d also note in particular that we wanted to include representatives of the LGBT community in Russia.  Given our serious concerns with some of the recent laws that have been passed and restrictions on activity for gays and lesbians within Russia, we felt it was important to ensure that we were including their voices in a discussion with the President."


Obama to Meet with LGBT Rights Groups During G20 Trip to St. Petersburg, Russia

President Obama plans to meet with several Russian LGBT groups later this week when he visits St. Petersburg to attend the G20 Summit, Buzzfeed reports:

PonomarevFour Russian non-governmental organizations told BuzzFeed Monday they had been invited to the meeting, scheduled for this Thursday at St. Petersburg’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. The groups include veteran human rights activists Lev Ponomarev (pictured) and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, legal aid NGO director Pavel Chikov, and Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based LGBT organization. Another local LGBT group, the LGBT Network, is believed to be attending, though director Igor Kochetkov declined to comment to BuzzFeed, saying that he had been “asked not to say anything.”

Election monitoring group Golos is also believed to have been invited, though BuzzFeed could not reach its director or deputy director to confirm. Russia’s justice ministry forced Golos, which used to receive funding from USAID, to disband this summer under a law on “foreign agents” that many believed was created specifically to target the group.

Earlier last month, of course, Obama canceled a G20 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a decision that was at least partly based on Russia's human rights abuses.


Russian Police Seize Painting of Putin in Women's Lingerie, Shut Down St. Petersburg Gallery

Travesty

Russian police have seized a painting from a St. Petersburg gallery that depicts President Vladimir Putin brushing PM Dmitry Medvedev's hair while the two wear women's lingerie, Reuters reports:

The officers also removed a picture of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, his torso covered in tattoos, and two others poking fun at lawmakers who have backed legislation banning so-called gay propaganda, gallery staff said. The officers also removed a picture of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, his torso covered in tattoos, and two others poking fun at lawmakers who have backed legislation banning so-called gay propaganda, gallery staff said.

The latter painting featured Vitaly Milonov, co-author of Russia's bill banning gay propaganda, together with a rainbow flag.

Gallery owner Alexander Donskoy called it an "illegal seizure". It's not clear whether the reason behind the seizure was because of Russia's law banning insult of authorities or its ban on gay propaganda.


L.A. Councilmembers Protest Russian 'Sister City' with Rainbow Flag

LA RAINBOW flag

Karen Ocamb at Frontiers reports that the Los Angeles "Sister Cities" sign near Los Angeles City Hall has a new appendage added by several City Councilmembers:

Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LaBonge eloquently described their anger over the anti-gay “propaganda” law now being enforced in Russia before unveiling a small Rainbow flag attached to the St. Petersburg Sister City sign prominently displayed near City Hall. They declared their opposition to severing Sister City ties, hoping to leverage the relationship to benefit harassed and oppressed LGBT Russians.

Bonin, O'Farrell and LaBonge also introduced a resolution asking the State Department to expedite the asylum program to help LGBT Russians escaping oppression in their country.


Russian Anti-Gay Policies 'Could Kill Its Cities'

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Russia has undergone no shortage of bad press in recent months. Its newly adopted anti-gay propaganda hve prompted outrage the world over, and have already put a damper on events such as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, months or even years in advance. 

Now, The Atlantic is reporting that Lansing, Michigan, is joining the growing list of global municipalities that are loooking to sever ties with their Russian "sister cities", which already includes the likes of Milan, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Reykjavik. Thus, as Russia inists on moving contrary to the global march toward human rights, the consequences could prove to have political and economic impact:

"St. Petersburg was, for hundreds of years, a city that took pride in its relative openness to global culture. When Peter the Great founded the city in 1703, he envisioned it as a "window on the West," a place where the values of the Enlightenment could be explored and celebrated. It was designed and built by the finest talents from around the world.

"Now, St. Petersburg is leading the way backward. Russia and its cities, by pursuing draconian anti-gay policies, are shutting themselves out of a global community where the benefits of an open society are ever more apparent."

Stolichnaya-1280x960It's no secret that international events such as the Olympics and the World Cup have the potential to generate a host of financial benefits for its host city and host nation. This is, of course, why so many cities vie for a chance to host such events. That said, should hosting a global event prove to be the potential source of controversy for the event's governing body, it would almost certainly deter them from coming back to that same city of country in the future. That's also not counting international boycotts of Russian products, which already have large companies such as SPI Group looking for ways to completely sever ties with the anti-gay nation. Let's also not forget the tourism dollars that Russia stands to lose in the future, from both gay tourists as well as those whom support human rights in general.

Finally, as The Atlantic illustrated by presenting the story of journalist and activist Masha Gessen, Russia's anti-gay laws have prompted an exodus of gay citizens, as well as their advocates. This only exacerbates the country's appartent desire "to shut down intellectually," and cost the country potentially vital intellectual capital. Thus, while the short term costs of losing "sister city" partnerships may be small, in the words of The Atlantic, "They are losing their future."


Russian Paratroopers Attack Lone Gay Rights Activist Protesting in St. Petersburg: VIDEO

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Gay rights activist Kirill Kalugin was attacked in St. Petersburg today while staging a one-man protest of Russia's anti-gay law. Reuters reports that "the former servicemen were gathered in central St. Petersburg to celebrate Russian Paratroopers Day, an annual holiday for the Russian airborne troops celebrated since the Soviet era days."

Watch a video of the attack, AFTER THE JUMP...

According to the Russian LGBT Network two of the attackers were detained by police and the activist, thankfully, got out unharmed.

RussianlgbtAnimal NY has translation:

“What are you doing here on Airborne Army Day?”

“I am picketing,” he says, trying to keep on his feet while being manhandled by the group.

“Well, we do not agree with this and ask you to stop this sort of action and your one-man picket.” They begin to push him around. He falls.

“Oh, look he slipped and fell. Don’t do that,” the soldier says, performatively at the journalists trying to get closer. The man is visibly frightened as the soldiers form a chain around him and began to chant, smacking their fists into their palms.

“CALL THE POLICE ON HIM,” someone jeer. “STAND RIGHT THERE,” a few yell. The police arrive (blue shirts, police hats) and attempt to drag the man out of the circle, so the soldiers move closer, block their access and pushing the cops.

“What were you thinking, showing up at the Palace Square, faggot?” the leader yells.

“You guys are animals,” the protestor rasps, while another soldier chokes him and shakes him by his neck. As the cops try to remove the illegally protesting young man, the soldiers start shoving them and throwing punches. In the next shot, they encircle the police vehicle — “We’re not going to let them fucking move anywhere.” — after their leader tries to get into the cruiser and drag the protestor out, yelling, “Why are you defending him?!”

The police begin putting the soldiers in detention vehicles and chaos breaks out, and then they begin attacking members of the media, who are their observing Kalugin's protest, Animal reports:

“We don’t stand by your provocations,” they scream at the car. Then, the drunken leader proceeds to rant at the camera about the “evil darkness” of “the bitches” in Russia and how bothered “we, normal human men” are by their sheer existence. “This is evil. Putin is fag and the rest of it is all shit. They entire country is on its knees. We are Russians! We are working!” In the background, a soldier screams at a cop, “Why are you not ticketing the faggot parade?”

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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