Obama to meet Russian gay activists on G20 visit

A President Barack Obama supporter with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender slogan on her T-shirt listens to him speak during a campaign event in Maumee, Ohio, on July 5, 2012.

US President Barack Obama will meet with gay rights activists during his visit to Russia for the G20 summit, two groups invited to the meeting told AFP on Wednesday.

The US leader, who called for equal rights for gays on the eve of his trip to St. Petersburg, will meet with activists on Friday evening, activist Igor Kochetkov said.

Kochetkov, who heads the group LGBT Network, told AFP he plans to attend and speak about "rights violations based on sexual orientation" and call for international monitoring of such violations.

The head of a St. Petersburg-based gay rights group called Coming Out, Anna Anisimova, told AFP they have also received an invitation and will have someone attend.

A White House official said Wednesday that Obama will "meet with Russian civil society leaders to discuss the important role civil society plays in promoting human rights and tolerance."

Representatives of groups supporting LGBT rights, human rights, free media and the environment have been invited, he said.

Several prominent Russian rights campaigners in Moscow said they were invited but can't attend because of constant changes in scheduling by the US delegation.

"We apologized and said we cannot come" because the meeting date was switched several times, making logistics difficult, veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Interfax news agency.

Lev Ponomarev of For Human Rights organization and Svetlana Gannushkina of Civic Assistance group said they will not be there for the same reason.

Speaking ahead of the Russian visit in Stockholm, Obama voiced support for equal rights for gays in statements widely seen as directed at Russia, where President Vladimir Putin recently signed a controversial "gay propaganda" law punishing people for dissemination information about homosexuality to minors.

"We share a belief in dignity and equality of every human being. That our daughters deserve the same opportunities as our sons. That our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters must be treated equally under the law," Obama told reporters.

While meeting Russian activists, Obama is not holding a bilateral meeting with Putin at the G20 after scrapping a much-anticipated state visit to Moscow over Russia's decision to grant temporary asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the Group of 20 powers to "condemn Russia's draconian homophobic law and do all in their power to persuade authorities to scrap it."

The "gay propaganda" legislation "has done nothing but create a climate of intolerance and promote violence by vigilante groups," the rights group's Europe and Central Asia director John Dalhuisen said.

Putin has denied the "gay propaganda" law is discriminatory, saying in an interview on Wednesday that Russia doesn't have "any laws pointed against persons with a nontraditional sexual orientation."

Russia has faced a barrage of criticism for the law, which is widely seen as anti-gay and has led to calls forĀ a boycott of the Winter Olympics next February in Sochi.