- (Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
Ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov has claimed that there are no gay people in the city. He was commenting on the controversy surrounding Russia's anti-gay propaganda law and the treatment of LGBT people.
"No, we just say that it is your business, it's your life. But it's not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city," Pakhomov said when asked by BBC Panorama about whether gay people need to hide their sexual orientation in the Russian city.
He added that gay people are welcome at the Winter Olympics, as long as they respect the country's laws and "don't impose their habits on others."
The mayor's comments echo those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in an interview earlier in January in Sochi said that gay people can feel "safe and free" at the games but need to "leave our children in peace."
In June, Putin signed into law the controversial bill that outlawed the "propagation" of information relating to homosexuality, making it illegal for anyone to spread information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors.
"We are talking about protecting children from the respective information," Putin said about the intent of the law.
Some in the international community have criticized the legislation, including music icon Sir Elton John, who last week posted a message on his website describing his experiences performing in Russia. He maintains that the new law is dangerous.
"Whatever the intention of Russia's homosexuality and pedophilia propaganda laws, I am absolutely clear from my own personal experience that it is proving deeply dangerous to the LGBT community and deeply divisive to Russian society," wrote John, who is openly gay and has a same-sex civil partner.
As to the claim that there are no gay people in Sochi, Russian opposition leader and Putin critic Boris Nemtsov shared that there are a number of gay bars within the city.
"As far as I know there are several gay clubs in Sochi," Nemtsov said. "How do they survive? Why they are not bankrupt?"
The International Olympic Committee has said that the homosexuality propaganda ban is not against its policies while at the same time stressing that the Olympic Games should be open to everyone.
"The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle," the IOC said, adding that it has received assurances from the Russian government that the legislation will not affect anyone attending or participating at the Winter Olympics.