SOCHI – President Vladimir Putin on Friday sought to reassure gay visitors to the Sochi Games that they are welcome in Russia despite a law banning gay “propaganda” to minors.
Responding to a question from an Olympics volunteer during a visit in the Black Sea resort city, Putin vowed that gays face no discrimination in Russia and could feel “at ease.” But he emphasized that because of the new law, they cannot express their views on gay rights issues to anyone under age.
Putin appeared to lump homosexuality and pedophilia together.
“We have no ban on nontraditional sexual relations. We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia. I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors,” he said.
Putin and other politicians have defended the June propaganda law as a protection of child rights, but critics believe that the law discriminates against sexual minorities. The law specifically refers only to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”
“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” he said. “One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace.”
Also Friday, Putin met with a few dozen volunteers at a venue in the mountains above Sochi. Candidates were expected to demonstrate at least an upper-intermediate command of English, and those selected were given online English classes.
Many foreign visitors at test events in Sochi last year spoke highly of the volunteers’ language skills. They were also pleasantly surprised to see Russians smiling at them, unlike most Russians whose culture doesn’t encourage smiling at strangers.