Friday, November 04, 2011

Dutch PM Holds Moscow Meeting
With Russian Lesbian Leader

(Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, with open hands meets activists in Moscow. Polina Savchenko, a lesbian leader with Coming Out, is on the right side of the conference table wearing a white jacket. Click to enlarge. Credit: Coming Out.)

Responsible and effective LGBT leaders in Russia from the Coming Out group, made a significant advance in elevating their issues in recent weeks with a foreign government Kremlin politicians very much want to have good diplomatic relations with.

I've cribbed details from the rough Google Russian-to-English translation of an account from Coming Out and a Dutch news site to cobble together this story of that advance for Russia's gay movement:

In October, at the invitation of the President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mr. Mark Rutte visited Russia on an official visit. Rutte made it a public priority of highlighting human rights issues in Russia for the Netherlands. In order to gain a more complete picture of the situation on the eve of his talks with Medvedev, Rutte met with representatives of the human rights movement in Russia, including a leading lesbian advocate.

At the October 19 meeting in Moscow with Rutte at the Dutch embassy were Alexei Navalny (a transparency blogger), Elena Panfilova (Transparency International), Tatyana Lokshina (Human Rights Watch) and Polina Savchenko (General Manager of the social service and advocacy LGBT organization Coming Out). Among the topics discussed were the fight against corruption, the North Caucasus region and the rights of LGBT citizens - all of which the Netherlands considers important issues in relations with Russia.

After the meeting, Polina shared her impressions on the Coming Out site :

"The Prime Minister was sympathetic to the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Russia. He asked many questions: Why did we choose to become activists? How many individual are involved in our transparency and LGBT groups? Is the Russian government doing enough to protest the human rights LGBT Russians?"

Polina added:

"The discussion was very lively, and all of us who met with Mr. Rutte expressed our thanks for engaging with us. The main purpose of the meeting for the Prime Minister was to understand how the Netherlands can contribute to human rights defenders and what questions should be raised in talks with Medvedev and Putin."

From San Francisco on behalf of Gays Without Borders, I extend deep respect and gratitude to Prime Minister Rutte for showcasing LGBT Russian people and their issues as integral to the Dutch foreign political engagement with Russian leaders.

And big, warm congratulations to the activists with Coming Out of St. Petersburg for scoring this coup of a meeting with an important trading and diplomatic partner, one willing to publicly pressure Russian leaders to improve their record on human rights protections for LGBT citizens.

By the way, I wish to point out that the day after the October 19 meeting, at which he was not present, Russia's most prominent and wealthiest globetrotting gay advocate, Nikolai Alexseev, resigned as leader of Gay Russia. Readers may recall that when he grandly exited the global gay stage on October 20, Nikolai told the UK Gay News that he simply couldn't provide any details why he was retiring from the movement.

Do I think he was angry to not be at the meeting with the Dutch Prime Minister and that his apparent non-invitation contributed to his retirement? Very much, yes. Could diva Nikolai accept that another LGBT Russian leader went to the meeting and he wasn't given any role to play? No, never.

I could be wrong, of course, but the timing of the meeting and resignation are quite curious.

Again, Gays Without Borders in San Francisco salutes our good friends at Coming Out in St. Petersburg on their success with the Dutch government, and we look forward to continued progress with their incredible advocacy work and social services for LGBT Russians!

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