MOSCOW - A chain of Russian food stores run by a devoutly religious nationalist businessman has placed signs in its windows saying gay customers will be refused entry.
Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Russian law prohibits sexual discrimination. But prejudices still run deep and much of the gay community remains underground.
"No entry for faggots," read a wooden plate at the entrance to one of German Sterligov's shops in central Moscow.
Sterligov, 50, became a millionaire by opening a mercantile exchange shortly before the Soviet Union's demise. Later in his career he turned devoutly religious and retreated with his family to rural Russia to sell organic farm produce.
"Our planet is full of filth and sick humans," Sterligov told Reuters Television at a country fair outside Moscow.
"In front of our eyes is the historical experience of Sodom and Gomorrah when God burned these towns," he said, referring to a passage from the Old Testament.
Addressing the farm fair through a loudspeaker, Sterligov praised U.S. President Donald Trump, who was swift to revoke his predecessor Barack Obama's landmark guidance to public schools allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.
"We thank him. May God give him health," Sterligov said.
Yulia Gorbunova, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said the retail chain's disregard for the law sent a dangerous message in a country where homophobia remains prevalent.
"It seems like they are promoting homophobia in an already homophobic society and it only leads to rising tensions," she told Reuters Television. "The state certainly has a responsibility to stop that and step in."
Alyona, a young assistant in one of Sterligov's Moscow stores, said she shared the chain's stance on homosexuals "as a true Christian".
"It's our guarding talisman," she said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied he discriminates against sexual minorities.