This weekend, Anatoly Pakhomov, the Mayor of Olympic Host City Sochi, told reporters that there were no gays in his city. Asked if gay people should hide their sexuality in the city, Pakhomov told the BBC’s Panorama program, “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.”
Pressed on the issue of gays in Sochi, Pakhomov said that, “I am not sure, but I don’t bloody know them.”
You have to wonder, however, if there are no gays in Sochi, then who is going to the gay bars? As opposition leader Boris Nemtsov told the BBC, there are a number of gay bars and clubs in the city.
For example, there’s Club Mayak, a cabaret venue which openly features drag queens and describes itself as “gay friendly” on its website (girls are allowed in the club, but they pay 200 rubles more than the boys). They’ve even put together this wonderful flyer to promote themselves during the event:
Put simply, Pakhomov’s comments are wrong — according to the Daily Beast, up to 400 people can be found at the club every night. There are gay people in Sochi, just like there are in any large group of people anywhere in the world.
But Pakhomov’s comments are illuminating. Let’s consider why he was even asked about gays in the first place — Russia’s “non-traditional sexual relations propaganda” laws, which came into being last year and have been a constant source of controversy ever since. Critics say that the laws, which don’t mention homosexuality directly, essentially prohibited teaching kids about homosexuality, gay pride marches, and speaking in defence of gay rights.
It’s worth remembering that Russia doesn’t have the worst anti-gay laws in the world (not by a long way, in fact). If you go to Moscow or St. Petersburg you will find many packed gay clubs and plenty of relaxed attitudes to sexuality. Pakhomov and the Duma deputies who voted in the “non-traditional sexual relations propaganda” haven’t tried to make homosexuality illegal in Russia, but they seem to believe they can will it out of existence. That’s just plain dumb.
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