The Speaker of Russia’s Parliament has invited members of the European Parliament to visit Moscow’s gay bars in an attempt to show Russia accepts the LGBT community.
According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin told a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Tuesday: “We have plenty of successful people here who have a non-traditional sexual orientation. They are successful in business, the arts, any creative sphere of activity,” he added: “They have a right to relax and take it easy in Moscow and other cities across Russia.”
Many Russian cities including Moscow have gay clubs where visitors “have a very good time,” he said, stressing he had not been to one himself but heard “eyewitness testimony” to that effect.
“Those who want to get confirmation of that are welcome – I’m inviting them to come to Moscow,” Mr Naryshkin said.
“Sadly, I won’t be able to come to a club with you, but I’ll definitely take care of you.”
The comments can be seen as part of a concerted effort by Russian officials to answer international criticism of the country’s anti-gay laws in the run-up to next year’s Winter Olympics.
The Games are due to be held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in February.
It prescribes fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18 – ranging from 4,000 roubles (£78) for an individual to 1m roubles (£19,620) for organisations.
Whilst it is true the law does not ban gay bars – campaigners note that there has been an increase in violence and state persecution against LGBT people in Russia following the passing of the legislation.
Pride events remain banned in the capital.
On Monday, the five-time Olympic medal winner said: “I think it’s absolutely embarrassing that there are countries and there are people who are that intolerant and that ignorant.”