Russian President Vladimir Putin has once more denied gay people are unwelcome at the Sochi Winter Olympics over anti-gay laws in the country, saying he is not prejudiced as he is on “friendly terms” with several people who are gay.
“I myself know some people who are gay; we’re on friendly terms,” Putin told Andrew Marr in a BBC interview, “I’m not prejudiced in any way.”
He made the remarks in response to outcries over laws in Russia which ban the “promotion of non-traditional relationships” to minors, with many calling for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics due to commence on the 7 February.
He added: “We have recently passed a law prohibiting propaganda, and not of homosexuality only, but of homosexuality and child abuse, child sexual abuse.
“But this is nothing to do with persecuting individuals for their sexual orientation. There’s a world of difference between these things.”
President Putin then claimed that legalising paedophilia had seriously been considered in several countries in relation to their acceptance of gay rights.
He also commented that gay people cannot “feel inferior” in Russia because there is no professional, career, or social discrimination against them, citing Elton John as an example of a person who “millions” of Russians love.
“It seems to me that the law we adopted doesn’t harm anybody,” he said.
“When they achieve great success, for example Elton John – he’s an extraordinary person, a distinguished musician, and millions of our people sincerely love him, regardless of his sexual orientation.”
On the issue of whether athletes or spectators who campaign against the law could face arrest, Putin said: “Protest actions and propaganda are two slightly different things. Similar, but from a legal point of view, protesting against a law is not the same as propaganda for homosexuality or child abuse.”
Commenting on security measures at the Olympic Games, Putin added: “Extremists are always trying to draw attention to themselves. They are narrow-minded people. The whole world sees them as criminals with no regard for human life.”
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Downing Street denied it was because of Russia’s decision to implement anti-gay laws. A source said: “The PM believes in engagement. He doesn’t think that boycotts and grand gestures achieve much.”
Last weekend Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain will continue urging Russia to protect LGBT rights and suggested that openly gay sports stars could be included in the UK’s Olympic delegation.
However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office later played down the remarks about the UK delegation.
She’ll be joined on the delegation by two openly gay former Olympic athletes — figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow.
For the first time since 2000, the US will also not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Winter Olympics.