President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that gays and lesbians are also welcome to attend next year’s Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Reuters reported that on Monday Putin assured Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that there was no cause for concern when it comes to LGBT people at the event.

“We are doing everything, both the organisers and our athletes and fans, so that participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation,” he said.

Russia and the IOC have come under increasing pressure over the host country’s “gay propaganda law” which restricts the LGBT community’s freedom of speech and expression.

The anti-gay law, which bars gay and lesbian public events such as Pride parades, has been blamed for inciting an increase in violence and discrimination against LGBT people.

Bach, who was in Russia on an inspection visit, chose not to address the controversy around the law during his trip.

In addition to the gay propaganda law, Putin has also signed a law blocking foreign gay couples from adopting Russian orphans.

Earlier this month a proposed Russian law that would remove children from gay or lesbian parents – who were equated to child abusers and drug addicts – was pulled from the legislature for redrafting.

Russia’s anti-gay polices have led to calls to boycott the Sochi Games and of products such as Russian vodkas. Olympics sponsors such as Coca-Cola have also been urged to pull out or speak out against the law.

Activists have noted that while enforcement of the anti-gay laws may be suspended in Sochi for the Games, ordinary LGBT Russians will continue to live under the oppressive legislation.

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