MOSCOW -- The mayor of Sochi, which will host the Winter Olympics next month, said in a TV interview that there are "no gays" living in his city, emphasizing that gay visitors are welcome at the Games as long as they "respect the law."
Anatoly Pakhomov, a Kremlin loyalist and member of ruling party United Russia, told the BBC that gay visitors to Sochi, where the Olympics open Feb. 7, were welcome as long as they did not "impose their habits on others."
In a preview clip for an interview due to air Monday evening on the British public broadcaster, the mayor suggested that Sochi did not have a gay community and that homosexuality was not part of the culture of the Caucasus, the southern Russia region in which the city is located.
When asked by a BBC reporter who had visited a gay bar in the city whether gay people had to "hide their sexuality in Sochi," the mayor said, "Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and doesn't impose their habits on others."
Added the mayor: "We say it is your business, it's your life. But it's not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city."
The preview clip then shows the reporter, John Sweeney, challenging the mayor's claim. The mayor responds by saying: "I am not sure, but I don't bloody know them."
Sweeney visited a gay bar the night before talking with the mayor, finding a community unwilling to go on camera and cautious about talking with journalists.
A drag queen called Madame Zhu-Zha said the city, like many in Russia, had a gay community that many don't dare talking about.
"There are very many clubs for gay people in Moscow," the drag queen told the BBC. "In Sochi, we have two gay clubs. In some places there's serious prejudice against gay people. In others it's not as bad."
The International Olympics Committee has been urging Russian president Vladimir Putin to ensure there is no discrimination against homosexual people during the Winter Games.
Last year, Russia passed laws banning the promotion of "non-traditional" sexuality to people under the age of 18, which drew protests from many celebrities, including Elton John, Madonna and Hollywood folk.
John posted latest comments on his web site last week, stating that he had met gay and lesbian people in Moscow who had told him of physical and verbal abuse they encountered from others encouraged by the anti-gay law.