(KUTV) One of the leading experts on Russia and a pioneer in that country's LGBT community took her message to an unlikely audience in Utah.
Masha Gessen spoke to a group of students at Brigham Young University Monday afternoon. During her 50-minute presentation, Gessen criticized President Donald Trump, spoke about LGBT issues, and left students with something to think about.
As she opened her speech, Gessen stated the obvious.
"I suspect that this is a slightly different audience than I often speak to," she said.
That's because Utah is a conservative state that voted for Donald Trump. Her message to the students Monday focused on the similarities between Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin.
"Both men are, on the face of it, unqualified to be president," Gessen said, adding that the two men share other traits such as a disdain for the media and a tendency to lie.
Gessen is a journalist who's worked in both the U.S. and Russia. She left that country in 2013 over anti-LGBT laws. Gessen herself is gay.
"I think that Russia is a country that has taken so much abuse," Gessen said.
Students who attended listened intently as Gessen shared her thoughts about the country where she was born and later worked as a journalist.
"Who better to present that than her, someone who's lived in Russia, who's been oppressed as a reporter," said Andre Jones, a Utah Valley University student who went to the BYU campus to attend the speech. "I think that people were pretty receptive."
Grant Lundberg, a BYU professor of linguistics, invited Gessen to speak at the university, knowing full well she does not fit the typical BYU mold.
"It's great to have somebody that can share a different perspective," Lundberg said. "What I hope that our students get from this is an opportunity to think about things, open their minds, think about things from a different point of view."
For Gessen, that was her goal, too. She believes she accomplished it.
"I was actually hoping for a little bit of pushback. It would have been interesting for me," Gessen said, smiling. "But it was clear that people were really engaged and interested in what I had to say."
Gessen recently published a new book on Russia, "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia," for which she has been nominated for the National Book Award. She will find out this week if she wins