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Jerry Buttimer 'Hit with a metaphoric brick wall when we raised LGBT rights with Russian Ambassador'
I think it is very important to challenge people’s viewpoints and perceptions, writes Senator Jerry Buttimer.

WHEN NEWS EMERGED about the current LGBT issues in Chechnya it felt so far removed from the progress we have made in Ireland in recent times.

Many people were shocked and saddened to hear about such horrific mistreatments during a proclaimed “anti-gay purge”. But should we be shocked?

Reports suggest abuses in Chechnya allegedly include men being kept in concentration camps where they were beaten several times a day, electrocuted and forced to sit on bottles, actions which I find in this day and age to be utterly barbaric.

The issue had been raised in the Seanad Chamber by various Senators and I thought it would be beneficial to use my position as Leader to address these allegations directly with the Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Maxim Peskhov.

Meeting with the Russian Ambassador

When my office made a formal meeting request to the Embassy it came as no shock that that they deemed allegations and any information of internment camps for homosexuals in Chechnya as fake allegations.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Ambassador accepted the invitation but I anticipated that the meeting would be brief and to the point.

On the morning I was joined by my Seanad colleagues, Senators Fintan Warfield and David Norris, who had both spoken out in condemnation of what has been taking place in Chechyna.

It did cross my mind if the Ambassador was aware that he would be meeting three openly gay members of the Oireachtas. I was curious if he did know would he treat us differently, considering he was representing a government that remains in complete denial of an LGBT community.

Hitting a metaphoric brick wall

It was no surprise to us that we were hit with a metaphoric brick wall when we raised the issue. It seems the Ambassador continued with the example set by other representatives in stating, “there is no discrimination of gay people in Russia.”

One could not but be disheartened at his lack of understanding or appreciation, or perhaps he was playing the old Russian traditionalist in just obfuscating and denying, but none the less it was incredible to watch his performance.

Although I was disappointed with the Ambassador’s lack of willingness to work to promote equality, I hope this is a step in a positive direction to engage in future open dialogue regarding LGBT issues in Russia. I think it is very important to challenge people’s viewpoints and perceptions.

We can make a difference

We must continue to promote LGBT equality here that can send a message internationally, as in 2015, that our country in many different ways is concerned with progress, international good practice and human rights.

We can make a difference. We can change rights and bring in entitlements and ensure that all people can live to their full potential.

Jerry Buttimer is a Senator and LGBT advocate.

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