BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Faced with worldwide criticism for Russia’s anti-gay legislation just as that nation prepares to host next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin defended the new law but also said he doesn’t “care about a person’s sexual orientation.” The Kremlin leader told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, “I myself know some people who are gay. We're on friendly terms. I'm not prejudiced in any way.”
In defending the new legislation –– which the Russian government claims is focused on preventing the distribution of information about homosexuality to minors but in fact essentially forbids any public expression of same-sex affection or advocacy –– Putin noted that other nations have legal prohibitions on gay conduct and expression.
“We don't have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations,” he claimed. “We have a ban on promoting homosexuality and pedophilia among minors.
In a weekend meeting with journalists, Putin claimed that sodomy remains illegal in some US states, an assertion that ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos corrected him on.
Some nations, including the US, have warned travelers to the Olympics that they could be at risk if they publicly reveal they are gay or advocate on behalf of LGBT rights. Putin told the BBC, however, “There's no danger for individuals of this non-traditional sexual orientation who are planning to come to the Games as visitors or participants.” Still, the BBC reported that security guards in the Russian city of Voronezh detained a gay rights protester for displaying a rainbow flag while the Olympic torch was carried through that city on January 18.
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Volograd, a Russian city about 425 miles from Sochi, there have been widespread concerns voiced about security at the Games. On January 20, the Pentagon took the unusual step of announcing it had offered Russia any assistance it might request and noting that “US commanders in the region are conducting prudent planning and preparations should that support be required.”
On January 21, NBC News reported that Russian authorities are looking for three young Muslim women they are calling “black widow” terror suspects who they fear might try to disrupt the final stage of the Olympic torch relay in Rostov-on-Don this week.
In reaction to the homophobic legislation, a number of world leaders, including President Barack Obama, are skipping the Games. The US delegation to Sochi includes three prominent out lesbian and gay athletes –– tennis star Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitaino, and hockey player Caitlin Cahow. When Boitano appeared at Chelsea’s Rubin Museum of Art on January 15, two members of Queer Nation, the activist group that has led protests against Russia and organizations supporting the Sochi Games, demanded to know how the skater planned to address the human rights violations there. Boitano was introduced by a Rubin staffer as “a courageous champion of human rights and artists,” but he declined to respond to the Queer Nation questions.