“We have no ban on non-traditional sexual relations,” Putin said in response to a question an Olympics volunteer asked him during a meeting in the Black Sea resort city about Russia’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors as the Associated Press reported. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”
The AP reported Putin also addressed lingering concerns that gays and lesbians who travel to Sochi for the games would face discrimination under the controversial propaganda law he signed last June.
“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.”
LGBT rights advocates in Russia and in the U.S. blasted Putin’s comments.
“This statement demonstrates very well how the official discourse labels LGBT people as a threat to children, instilling fear and hatred in the society,” Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a coalition of six Russian LGBT advocacy groups that includes the Russian LGBT Network, told the Washington Blade. “This is what leads to the ‘social cleansing’ performed by vigilantes across Russia, and this is what leaves LGBT youth marginalized and completely isolated. And this is the climate to which the world is invited to experience the Olympic spirit.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) described Putin’s comments as “sickening.”
“His obvious implication that gays prey on children is a desperate excuse for his homophobic stance and policies,” Florida Republican told the Blade. “What Putin doesn’t say is Russia does in fact have an alarming record of child abuse, but that is it not due to the gay community.”
Jamie Kirchick, a journalist who has urged the Obama administration to freeze the assets of Russian citizens and officials directly behind the country’s anti-LGBT crackdown and prevent them from entering the U.S. under a 2012 law, described Putin’s comments as a “reminder” of the Kremlin’s “war on gay people.”
“The association of homosexuality and pedophilia is one of the oldest and nastiest slurs used against gay men, and has provoked countless acts of violence and murder against them through the ages,” Kirchick told the Blade. “His statement that gays are welcome in Russia provided they stay away from children is like inviting a black family into your home but warning them not to touch the silver.”
Putin told reporters during an October press conference in Sochi with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. The IOC has repeatedly asserted it has received assurances from the Kremlin the gay propaganda ban will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to the games, even though Russian officials have previously said the statute will apply to those who attend the Olympics.
The U.S. State Department last week issued an alert to Americans who plan to travel to Sochi that highlighted, among other things, the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.
“The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia,” reads the advisory. “Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘LGBT propaganda’ and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as ‘LGBT propaganda.’”
Putin on Friday also discussed his position on gay rights an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in Sochi that is scheduled to air in its entirely on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Jan. 19.
A full transcript of the interview was not immediately available, but ABC reported Putin told Stephanopoulos the gay propaganda law does not ban homosexuality in his country. The network reported the Russian president stressed the statute only prohibits “homosexual ‘propaganda’ around minors.”