By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com January 27 2014 2:00 PM ET
The mayor of Sochi, Russia, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics in less than two weeks, has told the BBC that there are no gay people in his town — despite the fact that several news outlets have now gone inside the city's unmarked gay clubs.
Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi and a member of the ruling United Russia party, told the BBC's Panorama that his city's "hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and who doesn’t impose their habits and their will on others," he said. "But yes, everyone is welcome."
But when asked whether there were any gay people already in Sochi, the mayor balked. "We do not have them in our city," Pakhomov said. When challenged by the reporter who'd visited one of the city's gay bars the night before, the mayor admitted he wasn't certain that there were no gay people in Sochi.
"I am not sure, but I don’t bloody know them," Pakhomov replied, according to the BBC's translation.
Of course, it's unlikely that any LGBT person would make themselves known to Pakhomov, since the national parliament, known as the State Duma, passed a ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in areas visible to minors last summer.
Despite the law, which imposes fines and possible jail time for anyone discussing LGBT identities or equality in a positive light, Russian officials continue to claim that all Olympic athletes and visitors will be safe and respected at the Winter Games, which begin February 7. Last week, Russia's prime minister claimed that the law was not being enforced, and explained that he hadn't heard from any LGBT Russians who had been discriminated against. A week earlier, President Vladimir Putin said that gay people were welcome in Sochi but asked them to "leave the children alone," making a false conflation between homosexuality and pedophilia that supporters of the law claim is factual proof demonstrating the need for the nationwide ban.