During a press gaggle aboard Air Force One en route to St. Petersburg for the G20, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes was asked by a reporter:
"Why is it important for the President to meet with representatives of civil society in Russia? And how much care and thought went into the selection of these representatives of civil society?"
Replied Rhodes, according to a transcript provided to Towleroad by the White House:
"Well, I think the United States supports civil society around the world. And in countries that we visit, we often go out of our way to express our support for civil society. In Russia, in particular, we’ve seen negative trends in terms of the freedom of action for civil society in recent years, so it’s important for the President I think to demonstrate that the United States and many in the international community believe strongly that a vibrant civil society is a significant asset for all countries.
"Saint Petersburg has also been a longstanding location where there’s been a lot of civil society activity. I’d also note in particular that we wanted to include representatives of the LGBT community in Russia. Given our serious concerns with some of the recent laws that have been passed and restrictions on activity for gays and lesbians within Russia, we felt it was important to ensure that we were including their voices in a discussion with the President."