Barack Obama was so inspired by meeting Russian gay activists he took doubled the length of his chat with them and raved about them after in his motorcade.
That’s according to Michael McFaul, the US Ambassador to Russia who sat in on the face-to-face between the president and LGBT and other activists while Obama was attending the G20 summit last week.
McFaul describes how Obama took notes during the meet, answered questions and later ‘tasked me to follow up on some practical ideas proposed by our roundtable participants’.
The meeting took place in St Petersburg during a G20 dominated by Syria but with LGBT rights in Russia raised by several of the world leaders attending.
McFaul said: ‘The President, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and I met with a fascinating group of activists.
‘The group represented a broad cross-section of Russian NGOs and activists who work on issues such as human rights, the environment, media freedom, rights of business entrepreneurs, LGBT rights, and fighting corruption, racism, and discrimination.
‘Our colleagues gave President Obama a strong sense of the challenges facing civil society leaders in Russia today, especially new laws that place restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs and discriminate against the LGBT community.’
The participants urged Obama to keep pushing LGBT and human rights, to urge Russia to meet its international commitment and to stand up for freedom of assembly and expression.
The president was so ‘energized intellectually and inspired’ he extended the meeting from 40 minutes into almost an hour-and-a-half, the ambassador reports.
McFaul added: ‘In the car ride to the Air Force One after the event, the President commented on the articulate, passionate, and practical presentations these leaders had made, and we had a very wide-ranging discussion about civil society in Russia, civil society and human rights around the world, and democracy more generally.’