The mayor of Sochi claimed in a BBC interview on Sunday that there are no gay people in his city. The bizarre claim comes amid increasing international pressure on Russia for a controversial law that effectively bans public discussion of LGBT issues.
Anatoly Pakhomov told BBC Panorama that “it’s not accepted here in Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city.” He went on to admit he wasn’t actually sure there aren’t any gay people living in Sochi, saying, “I am not sure, but I don’t bloody know them.”
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov laughed the comments off, saying he knew of several gay clubs in the region. BBC Panorama reporter John Sweeney confirmed that when he went to a busy Sochi gay club the night before his interview with Mr. Pakhomov.
Madame Zhu-Zha, a drag queen Sweeney met at the club told BBC “there are very many clubs for gay people in Moscow – in Sochi we have two gay clubs as well.”
The claim comes 12 days before the start of the Sochi Olympic Games on Feb. 7. Both Pakhamov and Russian President Vladimir Putin insist that “individuals of nontraditional orientation” are welcome and will not be discriminated against at the Sochi Olympic Games.
In June 2013, Russia adopted a controversial law that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Proponents say the law was made to protect children, as it is aimed at discussing the issue with minors. Opponents say it encourages violence against LGBT citizens and intolerance in the country. “Propaganda” includes gay rights protests, parades and televised discussions.