The mayor of Sochi says there are no gay people in the city which is preparing to host the Winter Olympics next month.
“We do not have them in our town,” Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov told the BBC’s Panorama programme when asked if homosexuals resided in Sochi. Asked if he was sure about that claim by interviewer John Sweeney, Pakhomov replied: “I’m not sure. I don’t bloody know them.”
Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader in Russia, laughed off the mayor’s claims, noting there are several gay clubs in the city.
”How do they survive,” he said with a chuckle. “Why are they not bankrupt.”
Sochi is home to at least two gay clubs, but according to members of the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the scene is on the decline.
Pakhomov said gay people would be welcome at the Olympics, which begin on February 7th.
“Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and does not impose their habits on others,” he said.
When asked if homosexuals would have to hide their sexuality while in Sochi, Pakhomov said: “We just say that it is your business, it’s your life. But it’s not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live.”
Russia’s stance on gay rights, including laws introduced last year to ban the dissemination of “gay propaganda” among children, has drawn strong criticism from Western states and gay rights groups in the run-up to the Games, casting a shadow over President Vladimir Putin’s $50-billion showpiece event.
Putin has defended his country’s laws, saying Russia was not “going after” gay people.
(Files from Reuters were used in this report)