WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday he has "no patience" for anti-LGBT laws like those recently passed in Russia and said he believes Russian officials understand that "for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently."
The comments marked the first time the president weighed in on the growing question about how Russia's anti-LGBT laws will impact the Winter Olympics slated to take place in Sochi, Russia.
Obama made the comments during an interview with Jay Leno on NBC's The Tonight Show airing Tuesday night, which the AP first reported earlier in the evening.
According to a transcript of the remarks provided to BuzzFeed by a White House official:
Q: Well, something that shocked me about Russia -- and I'm surprised this is not a huge story -- suddenly, homosexuality is against the law. I mean, this seems like Germany: Let's round up the Jews, let's round up the gays, let's round up the blacks. I mean, it starts with that. You round up people who you don't -- I mean, why is not more of the world outraged at this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've been very clear that when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, that whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country. And I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.
Now, what's happening in Russia is not unique. When I traveled to Africa, there were some countries that are doing a lot of good things for their people, who we're working with and helping on development issues, but in some cases have persecuted gays and lesbians. And it makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes. But one of the things that I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly, because that's what we stand for. And I believe that that's a precept that's not unique to America, that's something that should apply everywhere. (Applause.)
Q: Do you think it will affect the Olympics?
THE PRESIDENT: I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work, and I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They're athletes, they're there to compete. And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people's sexual orientation shouldn't have anything to do with it. (Applause.)
The Human Rights Campaign, which has pressed for action to ensure athletes' and spectators' safety at the Olympics, praised the president's comments.
"The president was absolutely correct to express his indignation with this heinous law. It's an affront to humanity and puts in question Russia's standing as a democracy committed to the common humanity of all of its citizens. It all puts in deep relief their ability to host a successful Olympics," HRC spokesman Fred Sainz told BuzzFeed.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evan McMorris-Santoro is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News.
Contact Evan McMorris-Santoro at email@example.com.
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