Amid swirling anti-gay sentiment in Russia, Sochi’s mayor claims there are no gay people in his city.
“It’s not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city,” Anatoly Pakhomov told BBC Panorama in an interview.
Pakhomov said gays were welcome to visit Sochi, which will host the Winter Olympics in just under two weeks, as long as they “respect Russian law” and “don’t impose their habits on others.”
Of course, if Pakhomov were to visit the crowded nightclub Mayak, located just off the beach in downtown Sochi, he would find the city’s most popular gay cabaret.
Pakhomov, who the New York Times Magazine recently described as “a garrulous, barrel-bellied apparatchik of the new Russia,” went on to say that he was not sure if there are gay people in Sochi.
“I am not sure, but I don’t know them,” he told the BBC.
His comments come amid outrage overseas about Russia’s gay “propaganda” law, which forbids even talking about homosexuality around minors. Gay rights groups have feared that gay athletes and fans could be prosecuted if they attend the Olympics.
In an interview with a small group of journalists two weeks ago, including ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the law, saying it was meant to protect children.
“It seems to me that the law that we have adopted does not hurt anyone. Moreover, individuals of non-traditional orientation cannot feel like second-rate humans in this country because they are not discriminated against in any way,” Putin said.
“I couldn't care less about their sexual orientation. We will welcome all athletes and all visitors to the Olympics,” he added. “None of our guests will have any problems.”
Gay rights activists in Russia, however, say the new law has given momentum to an anti-gay movement in Russia, which in some instances has turned violent.