Gay rights group urges Obama to name openly gay ambassador to Russia

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 file photo, police detain Russia's leading gay rights campaigner Nikolai Alexeyev, center, during a protest outside the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games organizing committee office, in downtown Moscow, Russia. Despite seven months of international protests, Russia's law restricting gay-rights activity remains in place leading up to the winter olympic games. Yet the eclectic campaign has heartened activists in Russia and, without question, caught the attention of its targets - including organizers and sponsors of the Sochi Olympics that open on Feb. 7. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) Russian police detain Russia’s leading gay rights campaigner Nikolai Alexeyev during a protest in September outside the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games organizing committee office in Moscow.  (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)

It surely didn’t go unnoticed in the Kremlin when President Obama stuck it to Russian President Vladimir Putin last month by naming several openly gay athletes to the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics starting Friday in Sochi — including tennis great Billie Jean King, Olympic figure skating medalist Brian Boitano and women’s hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow.

Gay organizations were  outraged  by a law, signed by Putin in July, that bans pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors — a measure seen as banning almost any public discussion of gay rights. Putin also signed  a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children by  gay couples.

Now the Human Rights Campaign, the powerful lobby for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks, is calling on Obama to go a step further: The organization sent a letter Tuesday to the president asking him to name an openly gay ambassador to Moscow to replace Michael McFaul, who announced Tuesday that he’s leaving his post after the games.

That, “or, at the very least, an American who is publicly and notably supportive of equality — would send a vital message to the world that America’s belief in international human rights is as strong as ever,” campaign President Chad Griffin said in the letter. “It would give LGBT Russians a hopeful diplomatic role model to look to in their own backyard.”

Obama, as Griffin noted, has appointed “more openly LGBT ambassadors” than any president.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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Al Kamen · February 4, 2014

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