As President Obama met with LGBT activists as his last official engagement during his trip to St Petersburg for the G20 summit, the activists noted the significance of the fact that he met with them.
Nine activists met with Obama for just over an hour. The group included three activists from organisations not normally included in official invitations to meet with senior US officials.
The head of the Russian LGBT Network Igor Kochetkov, said: “For me the very fact that members of the LGBT community were invited to this meeting is important.”
He went on to say, however that Obama said “nothing concrete” about internal Russian affairs, respite assurances that the US had communicated its concerns.
Another of the activists, Dmitry Makarov, a coordinator for the Youth Human Rights Movement said “the United States has sent a signal, which is the correct thing to do.”
During the meeting, Obama told the activists that the US had raised concerns with the Russian authorities over LGBT issues in the country, and that they will continue to do so.
Makarov said that Obama actually only spent two minutes addressing LGBT rights in Russia, and attendees said they had raised human rights issues in the US, including the cases of Edwards Snowden and Bradley Manning, and the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
The White House released a statement after the meeting, and said that Obama had told the group that he always arranged meetings with civil society leaders during his trips abroad.
“The kinds of activities that are represented here are critically important to Russia’s development, and I’m very proud of their work,” Obama said, according to the statement.
“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.”
Pavel Chikov, who heads legal aid organisation Agora, who attended Friday’s meeting, said in a tweet that Obama had sent his greetings to Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, who are currently serving two year jail sentences for staging an anti-Vladimir Putin protest, with a song that mentioned the country’s persecuted LGBT citizens in a Moscow cathedral on 21 February 2012.
As well as Obama, the meeting was also attended by US Ambassador in Russia Michael McFaul, and Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
The other activists present were environmental activist Yevgeniya Chirikova, member of St. Petersburg LGBT group Coming Out Olga Lenkova, head of business advocacy group Business Solidarity Yana Yakovleva, investigative journalist Elena Milashina, human rights organization Memorial lawyer Ivan Pavlov and St. Petersburg-based human rights activist Boris Pystintsev, according to reports.
Reports also suggested that several activists had declined the invitations to attend from the US Embassy in Moscow, some citing busy schedules, and repeated rescheduling of the event.
Around a dozen human rights activists conducted individual protests against Russian anti-gay laws in St Petersburg on the same day the G20 government leaders arrived in the city. They protested individually as mass protests are often banned or interrupted by authorities.
Putin signed the controversial law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.