By Zjan Shirinian

AT&T has described Russia's anti-gay rights laws as 'harmful' ©Getty ImagesFebruary 5 - Telecommunications firm AT&T, which sponsors the US Olympic and Paralympic team, has spoken out against Russia's anti-gay law - the first major American company to do so.

In a post on its consumer blog, headed "a time for pride and equality", it described the law as "harmful".

The anti-gay rights law was introduced into the Duma - the Lower House of the Russian Parliament - last year.

It bans the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations", and has provoked widespread international condemnation.

AT&T, which has sponsored Team USA for 30 years, wrote on its blog: "To raise awareness of the issue, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called on International Olympic Committee (IOC) sponsors to take action and stand up for LGBT(lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) equality.

"AT&T is not an IOC sponsor, so we did not receive the HRC request.

"However, we are a long-standing sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee, we support HRC's principles and we stand against Russia's anti-LGBT law.

"We support LGBT equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination and harassment targeted against LGBT individuals everywhere.

"Russia's law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it's harmful to a diverse society.

"We want to be on record with our support for the LGBT community, and we hope that others involved with the Olympic Games will do the same."

Protests have been held around the world, including in Madrid last year, against Russia's anti-gay rights laws ©Getty ImagesProtests have been held around the world, including in Madrid last year, against Russia's anti-gay rights laws ©Getty Images

Top Olympic partners - which include McDonald's and Cola Cola - are being called on by campaign groups Athlete Ally and All Out to "speak out now" over the anti-gay rights issue.

The groups are planning a day of action today, with expected protests in 20 cities around the world including Moscow, London and Rio de Janeiro.

Speaking yesterday at the Opening Ceremony of the IOC Session in Sochi, its President Thomas Bach criticised world leaders who have chosen to stay away from the Games because of the anti-gay law.

Speaking at the Zimny Theatre, he said: "Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.

"People have a very good understanding of what it really means to single out the Olympic Games to make an ostentatious gesture which allegedly costs nothing but produces international headlines."

Last month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described the furore over Russia's anti-gay laws as something "invented abroad" which is "non-existent" in his country.