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Russian Gays Disappointed in Clinton

Russia's leading gay activist said Wednesday that he was disappointed that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with an outspoken foe of gay rights during her two-day trip to Russia and did not decry homophobia in the country.

Clinton attended a ceremony unveiling a statue of Walt Whitman at Moscow State University with Russian officials including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov has blocked all attempts to hold gay pride marches in Moscow, once saying they "can be described in no other way than as satanic."

Clinton did not mention of the issue during the ceremony. Some biographers have described Whitman as homosexual and U.S. gay activists have claimed him as symbol of their movement.

"Just as Pushkin and Whitman reset poetry we are resetting our relations for the 21st century," Clinton said. A statue of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was erected at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., in 2000.

It was not clear whether Luzhkov was aware of Whitman's status as a gay icon, and sponsors of the statue said they were honoring Whitman strictly for his contributions to literature.

"Whitman transcended his sexuality in his art and I would like to thank Mayor Luzhkov for welcoming him in his city and have absolutely nothing to say about those things," said James W. Symington, a former four-time congressman for Missouri and representative of the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation.

Gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev said Wednesday he was disappointed Clinton did not discuss discrimination against gays.

"Russia is supposed to be a democracy and she said nothing," he said.

Alexeyev had called on Clinton to denounce what he called entrenched and degrading homophobic attitudes in Russia at a news conference Tuesday.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the department was unaware of any request from the Russian gay community.

Homosexuality was only decriminalized in Russia in 1993 and homophobic attitudes remain widespread.

Activists have taken the struggle to hold a gay pride parade in Moscow to the European Court of Justice, which is scheduled to rule on the issue in early 2010.

The statue of Walt Whitman was placed in the gardens of Moscow State University, where in May more than 30 gay activists were arrested for attempting to hold a pride march.

The statue of Walt Whitman will complement a statue of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin installed in Washington in 2000.

Whitman sculptor Alexander Bourganov remarked at a press conference Tuesday that the opening had been delayed and been politically difficult. He did not elaborate.