Last night, in an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, President Obama was asked about Russia's brutal anti-gay crackdown and what it means for LGBT and pro-equality athletes, coaches, and spectators at the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Leno asked the President: "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?"
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.
Leno then asked the President if he thought Russia's persecution of LGBT people would affect the Olympics. "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," Obama replied. "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."
Watch, after the jump.