Mayor says no gay people in Sochi? Tell that to city's gay bar
Published Monday, January 27, 2014 11:13AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 27, 2014 11:25PM EST
As the mayor of Sochi sparked controversy Monday by saying no gay people lived in his city, employees at a gay bar in Sochi’s downtown prepared to host hundreds of people for another night.
In an interview with BBC’s Panorama on Monday, Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov told interviewer John Sweeney that “We don’t have them in our town,” referring to gay people.
When pressed whether he was sure about his claim, Pakhomov replied: “I’m not sure, I don’t bloody know them.”
Pakhomov said, however, that gay people would be welcome at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in the city as long as they respect “the laws of the Russian Federation,” and don’t “impose their habits and their will on others.”
The Russian government passed laws earlier this year banning what it calls gay “propaganda” to minors. The passing of the laws immediately sparked widespread concern about the safety of gay athletes and visitors to Sochi during the Games.
Pakhomov clearly made the remarks Monday to show his support for the federal laws. What’s even clearer is that Sochi actually has a visible gay community.
CTV News’ Peter Akman, who is on the ground in Sochi, visited a gay club in the city’s downtown on Monday. The bar’s owner told Akman he frequently caters to as many as 300 gay men on certain nights.
“We have daily cabaret show,” owner Roman Kachagov said. “We have dancing and drink and even gay bingo.”
Kachagov said that despite the government’s anti-gay rhetoric, as well as clamp-downs on gay rights activists, he has never encountered any problems.
“We don’t hide. And we never get harassed by police or by the government,” he said.
Kachagov also said that he has actually met with Pakhomov to talk about the role the bar would have during the Games -- another indication Pakhomov’s comments were nothing more than hyperbole.
Boris Nemtsov, a Liberal opposition leader in Russia, laughed off Pakhomov’s remarks too, telling the BBC that he was also aware of several gay bars in the city. He said if Pakhomov’s claims were true, “How do they survive, why are they not bankrupt?”
Russian President Vladimir Putin -- who has staunchly defended Russia's anti-gay law, saying the country needs to rid itself of homosexuality if it wants to increase its birth rate -- has tried in recent weeks to quell concerns that gays would be targeted in Sochi. He recently said "There are no fears for people with this non-traditional orientation who plan to come to Sochi as guests or participants.”
Many gay-rights groups have already protested Russia’s anti-gay laws, with many more demonstrations planned for Sochi once the Games get underway.
With a report by CTV’s Peter Akman in Sochi