With Sochi Games Only Six Months Away, Obama Cancels Moscow Trip Amid Human Rights Concerns

by Charles Joughin

President condemns Russian anti-LGBT law in interview with NBC’s Jay Leno

WASHINGTON – In an interview Tuesday with Jay Leno on NBC’s The Tonight Show, President Obama condemned a new Russian law that criminalizes even the most modest gestures of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The President stated that such laws violate “the basic morality that I think should transcend every country, and I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays, or lesbians, or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” This morning, the White House announced that the President had cancelled a planned trip to Moscow because of his frustration with Russia on several issues, including human rights.

“At the very least, this heinous law denies LGBT people in Russia the slightest shred of dignity and humanity,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin.  “But as we’ve seen in the news, people’s lives are at stake thanks to this state-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia that reaches the highest levels of Russian government.  President Obama is right to be concerned as the Olympic Games in Sochi draw near – not just for Americans traveling to Russia, but for those who must endure the law long after the last medal is won.”

In June, a law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" was passed by Russia’s Federal Assembly and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.  Under the guise of protecting children from "homosexual propaganda," the law imposes fines or jail time to citizens who disseminate information that may cause a "distorted understanding" that LGBT and heterosexual relationships are "socially equivalent." The fines are significantly higher if such information is distributed through the media or Internet.

Foreigners, such as those visiting Russia for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, will not only be fined but also face arrest and up to 15 days in jail, followed by eventual deportation, according to the new law.

HRC president Chad Griffin wrote to NBCUniversal executives, asking the network to use its exclusive coverage of the 2014 Olympic Games to expose this heinous law.  He also called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to be credulous, after the organization announced it had received promises that foreigners would not be subject to the law during the Sochi Games:

“Mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough. The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin. But more importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”  

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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