Russia Suspends U.S. Exchange Program, Claiming Student Was Illegally Adopted By Same-Sex Couple

The U.S. agency administering the exchange program confirmed to BuzzFeed News that one student did not return to Russia.

The Russian foreign ministry announced this week that it had suspended a 21-year-old program that placed Russian high school students with host families in the U.S. after alleging that a student had been put up for adoption and placed in the custody of a same-sex couple.

"A child who has a mother in Russia was illegally put up for adoption, and the boy was handed over to a homosexual American couple," Russia's child rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency on Wednesday. "The boy is healthy and comes from a good family, so it's not clear what guidelines they were operating under in the U.S."

The program being suspended is the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX), which is funded by the U.S. government and administered by the American Councils for International Education (ACIE), based in Washington. ACIE Executive Vice President David Patton told BuzzFeed News that the organization was notified on Tuesday by the U.S. embassy in Moscow that the Russian government was withdrawing its participation.

Patton said he did not have full details on the case in question, but confirmed that one student had not returned to Russia after the child's scheduled time in the U.S. had run out. Patton said the child was not placed with same-sex host parents by ACIE, but did befriend a same-sex couple while participating in the program.

"There's certainly a grain of truth in about everything that's said here," he said in response to the Russian government's allegations.

Patton said ACIE "no longer has jurisdiction" over the case and that it was now in the hands of U.S. immigration officials. He did not know whether the child is currently in the custody of the same-sex couple, as Russian officials allege.

Patton said ACIE has long included same-sex couples among host parents for the FLEX program, which has more than 8,000 alumni from Russia alone.

"Students on the FLEX program are placed in the broad swath of American families, including some non-traditional families," Patton said, referring to both same-sex couples and single-parent households. When those placements are made, Patton said, both the student and their Russian parents are informed in advance.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a statement on Tuesday expressing deep "regret this decision by the Russian government to end a program that for 21 years has built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States."

Russia has clashed with the United States and western European nations over LGBT rights since last year, especially over a law banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors." Russia has banned all adoptions to the U.S. since late 2012 in response to a US bill that barred entry for suspected Russian human rights abusers, and it passed legislation last year to all countries recognizing same-sex marriages unless governments guarantee that children will never be placed in the custody of a same-sex couple. Violence against LGBT people inside Russia has increased since the new initiatives.

A report in the state-run TASS news agency said a legal group at the Russian embassy in the US had been following the incident after the child's mother unsuccessfully tried to get him to come home in May, and Russian diplomats followed up with a visit to Michigan. The report said the diplomats found that the child "met a pair of old homosexuals at church, former military men who had already adopted two American boys, and they offered to become his sponsor and even pay for his studies at Harvard University." The diplomats said the child then turned himself into to immigration authorities and "admitted his non-traditional sexual orientation," the TASS report said.