MOSCOW, September 4 (RIA Novosti) – President Vladimir Putin has denied the existence of anti-gay laws in Russia, pledged not to allow discrimination against homosexual athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics and said he might meet members of Russia’s LGBT community for talks on their status if they requested it.
Putin signed a controversial and vaguely-worded law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors, an offense punishable with hefty fines. While the law’s proponents argue it is aimed at protecting children, critics claim the legislation is part of a much wider crackdown on Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Putin retorted to those accusations by claiming Russian gays are not abused in any walk of life, adding that he is comfortable about working with them and granting them state awards, according to a transcript of his interview with The Associated Press and Russia’s Channel One television posted on his website Wednesday.
“People of non-traditional sexual orientation are in no way abused professionally, or when it comes to the level of salaries, or…even if they achieve something creatively in their work, they are not abused even from the viewpoint of the government’s recognition of their achievements, I mean when they get awards, medals,” Putin said in the interview. “They are absolutely fully valued citizens of the Russian Federation, equal in their rights.”
“I assure you, I work with such people, I sometimes give state medals and awards to them for their achievements in various fields,” he was quoted as saying.
Asked whether the law he had signed will be enforced at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin said that “there will be no negative consequences, I hope,” according to the transcript.
“We have no laws directed against persons of non-traditional sexual orientation,” he was quoted as saying. “A law banning the propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation has been adopted in Russia, but these are absolutely different things.”
In August, Russia’s sports minister equated the promotion of homosexuality with that of alcohol and drug abuse, while Russia’s Interior Ministry has insisted it would enforce the law at the Sochi Olympics. The International Olympic Committee said it had sought clarification before issuing a formal statement on the law, while some international gay rights groups have called for a boycott of the Games.
Putin said anyone concerned about the implementation of the law at the Olympics could be assured that “Russia will strictly support the Olympic principles that do not allow discrimination against people for any reason – nationality, gender, or anything else you mentioned, including sexual orientation.”
World leaders including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have condemned the law and insisted it is the wrong way to tackle the issue.
Gay rallies in Moscow and other Russian cities have for many years been banned and dispersed by police and anti-gay protesters, including vigilante Orthodox Christian groups who have violently assaulted and verbally abused LGBT activists.
Putin said that he could meet with LGBT activists to discuss their problems, if they ask him to.
“As a rule, I meet with everyone who comes up with a request about a meeting and offers to discuss a certain problem that they think is important,” he was quoted as saying, adding “so far, there have been no offers” from LGBT activists.
“Why not?” Putin reportedly said about such a meeting.
One of Russia’s leading gay rights campaigners was quick to respond to the offer. “Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich!” Nikolai Alexeyev said on Twitter. “I ask you for a meeting to discuss the situation about LGBT [issues] in Russia and in the world!”
Alexeyev, who has for years been trying to hold a gay pride event in Russia, said he will submit an official request for a meeting to Putin’s administration.
Although Moscow repealed in 1993 Russia’s Stalin-era law punishing gays with up to five years in jail, attitudes toward homosexuality remains conservative in Russian society. According to a poll in May by Russia’s Levada Center, almost 80 percent of Russians are in favor of banning promotion of non-traditional relationships. A VTsIOM poll in June suggested 40 percent of Russians think homosexuality should be a crime.