President Obama won’t meet with Vladimir Putin during his upcoming trip to Russia, but he will convene with a group of the country's LGBT activists, the latest development in the diplomatic eye-poking war between Obama and the Russian president.
A quick recap: Putin needled Obama by providing safe haven to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Obama responded by canceling a one-on-one meeting with Putin during the upcoming G-20 summit in Russia. Putin subsequently announced his opposition to a U.S. military strike in Syria. Now, Obama’s decided to meet with gay rights activists during his trip to Russia, which has recently been placed on the defensive for its virulently homophobic attitudes.
In June, the Russian parliament unanimously passed a bill that bans "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in the country, a bill Putin subsequently signed. When demonstrators showed up outside the Duma (Russia’s lower house of parliament) to protest the bill, they were attacked by anti-gay counter-protestors. Soon, the riot police soon showed up, and proceeded to detain—you guessed it—the LGBT activists protesting the bill.
There was also the brutal violation and murder of a Russian man last May. After his death, one of his attackers confessed to killing the man because he’d told them he was gay; however, the deceased man’s father denied that his son could have gay, as such allegations disgraced the deceased man’s memory. The father suggested instead that his son’s murderers fabricated the story in order to gain sympathy for having killed him. When demonstrators marched in protest of the incident, they, too, were arrested by police.
Innokenty Grekov of Human Rights First applauded Obama’s decision to meet with gay rights leaders, saying that it "sends a clear signal that the United States stands in solidarity with those targeted by Russia's civil society and LGBT crackdown."
For his part, Putin pushed back against accusations that he, or Russia as a whole, is homophobic.
"I assure you that I work with [gay] people. I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields," he told AP. "They say that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a homosexual. Truth be told, we don't love him because of that, but he was a great musician, and we all love his music."