Russian LGBT Activists Visit Washington To Drum Up Support

LGBT activists from the Russian city of Arkhangelsk are making the rounds in Washington, lobbying the U.S. government to keep up the pressure on the Kremlin over its anti-gay legislation as Russia prepares to host the winter Olympics.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish at NPR West, in California.

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And I'm Melissa Block in Washington, D.C. Russian gay rights activists are making the rounds here in the nation's capital. They want the U.S. to keep up pressure on Moscow ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. They're not calling for a boycott. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, they want to raise awareness about anti-gay discrimination in Russia.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Aleg Kluinkov(ph) comes from the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk, a port city which he says used to have a reputation for openness.

ALEG KLUINKOV: (Speaking foreign language).

KELEMEN: It was a city that open to different views and trends, he says, but now Arkhangelsk is becoming a stronghold of traditional values and religious beliefs in the Russian north. Arkhangelsk was the first region, he says, to pass laws restricting the rights of LGBT activists, making it impossible for his group called Rukers, or Perspectives to hold rallies. Arkhangelsk recently lifted that local anti-gay law but only because it conflicted with a new federal law. So Kluinkov says this was no victory for his community.

KLUINKOV: (Speaking foreign language).

KELEMEN: I think the local authorities see this as their victory, he says, because they managed to get their law passed on a federal level. That Russia-wide law bans propaganda to minors about, quote, "nontraditional sexual relations." Kluinkov is talking about all of this with U.S. officials and lawmakers. One of the organizers of his trip here, Innokenty Grekov of Human Rights First, is hopeful that U.S. activism can make a difference, even if the U.S. government has little leverage with Moscow.

INNOKENTY GREKOV: It's unclear what moves Russia these days, but we're pretty confident that boycotting the Olympics will do little to advance civil society or LGBT rights groups in Russia.

KELEMEN: Worried that boycotts could backfire and fuel anti-gay sentiment in Russia. These activists are taking a different approach. They just visited Portland, Maine, the sister city of Arkhangelsk, and Grekov says they will make sure that LGBT issues are raised during sister city celebrations this month.

GREKOV: When the Russian delegation comes to town, comes to Portland, Maine, they will hear from Portlanders, from the mayor about the need to address concerns of LGBT individuals, of LGBTQ youth.

KELEMEN: And Portland officials plan to visit gay activists in Arkhangelsk next time they're there. Portlander Robert Lieber(ph) came up with this idea as he searched for ways that Americans could help LGBT communities in Russia.

ROBERT LIEBER: Finding an appropriate way where we're not finger-pointing, but certainly one way is that Portland is actually doing great right now. It's a very happy, vibrant city, and a large part of it is primarily because we voted down discrimination a few years ago, and we are very LGBTQ friendly.

KELEMEN: It's not clear how much Portland's experiences can translate to the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk, but Ludmilla Ramadina(ph), who started a gay support group in Russia, says she learned a lot by sitting down in Maine with members of PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

LUDMILLA RAMADINA: (Speaking foreign language)

KELEMEN: In Russia people are not open to talking about these issues, the psychological state of gays, she says, but there are lessons to be learned from groups like PFLAG. First, though, she says she and her colleagues have to figure out what's possible under Russia's ban on so-called gay propaganda. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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