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Sochi 2014

Sochi’s Mayak cabaret, a safe place for gays in the Olympic host city

Sunday, February 9, 2014
David Goldman, APDavid Pichler, an American diver and former Sydney Games team captain, shows off his Olympic rings tattoo during a television interview on Sat., Feb. 8, while meeting with locals at the Mayak cabaret, the most reputable gay club in Sochi, Russia, host to 2014 Winter Olympics.

David Goldman, AP
David Pichler, an American diver and former Sydney Games team captain, shows off his Olympic rings tattoo during a television interview on Sat., Feb. 8, while meeting with locals at the Mayak cabaret, the most reputable gay club in Sochi, Russia, host to 2014 Winter Olympics.

SOCHI, Russia — The mascara-lined eyes of a petite man dressed in a tuxedo greet visitors after they buzz at the armor-plated door of a one-story building.

Welcome to the Mayak cabaret, the most reputable gay club in Sochi, and one of the few safe places for gays in the Olympic host city to meet.

Most of Mayak’s clients shy away from cameras and plead for anonymity. Not so Andrei Ozyorny, a 24-year-old Sochi native. Ozyorny, one of Mayak’s regulars, has recently done something that he feels proud of and which makes his partner fear for his business and safety.

David Goldman, APIn this photo taken Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014,  Gay rights activists Hudson Taylor, right, Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally, and board member Robert Smith, left, meet with locals at the Mayak cabaret, a gay club in Sochi, Russia.

David Goldman, AP
In this photo taken Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, gay rights activists Hudson Taylor, right, Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally, and board member Robert Smith, left, meet with locals at the Mayak cabaret, a gay club in Sochi, Russia.

David Goldman, APAndrei Ozerny, right, talks with his partner, who would only give his first name as Georgy, at the Mayak cabaret, a gay club in Sochi, Russia.

David Goldman, AP
Andrei Ozerny, right, talks with his partner, who would only give his first name as Georgy, at the Mayak cabaret, a gay club in Sochi, Russia.

David Goldman, APAndrei Sarkisian, second from right, who goes by the stage name of Miss Zhuzha, gets ready backstage before a performance at the Mayak cabaret, a gay club in Sochi, Russia.

David Goldman, AP
Andrei Sarkisian, second from right, who goes by the stage name of Miss Zhuzha, gets ready backstage before a performance at the Mayak cabaret, a gay club in Sochi, Russia.

David Goldman, APAndrei Ozerny, left, talks with David Pichler, an American diver and former Sydney Games team captain. Ozyorny, one of Mayak's regulars, has recently done something that he feels proud of and which makes his partner fear for his business and safety. When Sochi's mayor said in an interview last month that there were no gays in Sochi, Ozyorny wrote a letter to the mayor that was published in prominent Russian media. "Nice to meet you, I'm one of them," Ozyorny wrote.

David Goldman, AP
Andrei Ozerny, left, talks with David Pichler, an American diver and former Sydney Games team captain. Ozyorny, one of Mayak’s regulars, has recently done something that he feels proud of and which makes his partner fear for his business and safety. When Sochi’s mayor said in an interview last month that there were no gays in Sochi, Ozyorny wrote a letter to the mayor that was published in prominent Russian media. “Nice to meet you, I’m one of them,” Ozyorny wrote.

When Sochi’s mayor said in an interview last month that there were no gays in Sochi, Ozyorny wrote a letter to the mayor that was published in prominent Russian media. “Nice to meet you, I’m one of them,” Ozyorny wrote.

Russia adopted a law last year, prohibiting vaguely defined propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations and pedophilia. The legislation makes it illegal to disseminate information to children even if it merely shows that gay people are just like everybody else.

Russian authorities insist that the law is aimed at protecting children from harmful influences. Activists, however, insist that the law is fostering homophobia in Russia. Vigilante homophobes from a movement called Occupy Pedophilia have been using gay dating websites to lure young men and boys into meetings, where they taunt them on camera and then publish the videos online.

Gay pride parades have been de facto banned for many years, but since last year Moscow authorities often cite the propaganda law as a reason to forbid any demonstrations. Across the rest of the country, Russian judges have been implementing the law and handing out fines. Several people have already been convicted under the new law, such as a newspaper editor who ran an interview with a school teacher fired after he came out as gay.

World leaders and journalists have confronted President Vladimir Putin with questions about gay discrimination in Russia. Putin has been stubbornly equating homosexuality with pedophilia even though he has assured gays that they will be welcome in Sochi, but only if they “leave the kids alone.”

“(The law) instills in people’s minds that these are synonymous terms: if you’re gay, you’re a pedophile,” Ozyorny said.

Ozyorny, who runs a travel agency with his partner, had a hard enough time as a teenager coming to terms with his sexuality. Now he’s concerned the law will make life even more difficult for Russian teenagers.

“They need someone to tell them: you’re all right, you’re not sick, you’re not a pervert, this is the way you were born, you have to accept this,” he said. “You can’t do this anymore. Now this is a crime.”

At Mayak, packed on Saturday night, gay men and women steered away from discussing the law, preferring to enjoy life, closeted as it is. About a hundred people were chatting at the bar, sitting in armchairs or dancing. Couples were sharing kisses. Everyone was waiting for the club’s specialty: a drag show. At 1.30 a.m. on Sunday, the music stopped and the show began.

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Backstage, the star of the show, Miss Zhuzha, was adding the final touches to her make-up. The 44-year-old female impersonator, who has been performing for 20 years, served two years in the Soviet army in East Germany as Andrei Sarkisian.

David Pichler, an American diver and former Sydney Games team captain, was in the club. Two days ago he had met with some gay rights activists who were later arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg for unfurling rainbow flags. He had been shocked by the police reaction.

“It’s just scary,” he said in Sochi. “For kids not to be able to be who they are or to say that by gay people promoting homosexuality we’re going to turn people gay, it’s basically saying you’re going against the whole class.”

The crowd at Mayak mostly avoided politics and hardly anyone was contemplating a public protest.

Ozyorny’s partner Georgy, 32, says he doesn’t feel affected by the anti-gay law but finds it meaningless. “I don’t understand the wording of the law,” he said. “Do I go around schools saying: I’m gay, follow me? How can you impose it on anyone?”

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85 more reader comments:

  1. But there are no gays in Sochi. They said so.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 4:55pm
  2. but he owns the club and nos better...why question this...

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:14pm
  3. Safe…until Putin’s thugs attack the place and bust some skulls. Its their country…they obviously don’t give a damn about world opinion…they know full well that international condemnation of their policies towards gays is just posturing; no one cares enough about the issue to make a stand,not a stand that matters.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 4:57pm
  4. No there not, they have to hide in the closed and not let anyone know, its a sad way to live.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 5:03pm
  5. when where you in Russia...

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:16pm
  6. i was not ever in russia.

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:21pm
  7. I don’t believe there is a safe place in Russia.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 5:18pm
  8. then you don't know Russia.

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:15pm
  9. it's enough to see what tv shows and what their goverment promotes

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:22pm
  10. I think there’s no safe place in Russia for gay people

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 5:49pm
  11. I have several gay Russian friends that I met on facebook...look before you accuse.

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:15pm
  12. Barry WHY do you defend Russia?

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 7:18pm
  13. this place will get shut down hard after the flame dies

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:05pm
  14. :(

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:05pm
  15. What joy! A known place to target individuals!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:30pm
  16. Barry Tedesco, if you don’t think that “safe” zone isn’t a bright red target, you’re as ignorant as most of their government. In Russia, you don’t find trouble. Trouble find you. . .

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 6:37pm
  17. It’s sad actually. The media only allows you to see what they want you to see. There is no safe place in Russia for gays. I’m not from Russia, I’ve never been there. If you actually get away from the media and the propaganda you’ll see what it actually is.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 8:11pm
  18. Not being able to be yourself in your own hometown…..very sad!!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 9:22pm
  19. PRINCIPLE 6!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 9:50pm
  20. Very cool

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:16pm
  21. Fabulous…

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:16pm
  22. been there.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:17pm
  23. Brave x

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:19pm
  24. fab. so fab.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:20pm
  25. Thank you Mayak Cabaret for giving queer people a place of queenship, hope, joy, elation and empowerment! The world-wide LGBT community supports you and loves you, as you are a part of our tribal family, a beautiful drop in the ocean of our collective radical imagination…((( <3 ))) :)

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:20pm
  26. Thank heavens im not from Rusia

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:20pm
  27. Fab

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:20pm
  28. What? I thought they said that there were NO gays in Sochi.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:21pm
  29. But I thought Russians were immune to the gay disease? Well tickle my sphincter and color me confuzzled!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:23pm
  30. “THE GAYS” …WTF…I HATE WHEN PEOPLE SAY THAT, LIKE WE ARE SOME KIND OF ANIMAL’S OR SOMETHING…

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:24pm
  31. A club in Russia? How? I thought basic civil rights especially to club property was banned

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:25pm
  32. Who is that hottie in the back? YUM!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:25pm
  33. Of course there’s gays in Sochi. We’re every where… watching… waiting…

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:25pm
  34. That made me laugh out loud quite literally. You're awesome!

    Replied on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:27pm
  35. ...for new recruits.

    Replied on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 6:29am
  36. Well of course there’s lgbt in Russia homophobic laws won’t effect nature.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:27pm
  37. No matter how much the homophobic law makers wish it could...

    Replied on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 1:20am
  38. Work it gurl !!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:32pm
  39. Hope the hater are not waiting for them outside like the videos posted…. Keep strong.. Have fun

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:33pm
  40. STAY TRUE GIRLS!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:37pm
  41. I would imagine, like the long-gone days in the U.S. for LGBT clubs, that authorities are receiving a pay-off for not hassling customers.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:44pm
  42. did anyone notice that about 1/2 way down the article was an advertisement for Salvation army? one of the most anti-gay people there is!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:47pm
  43. Ah, mr mayor had it wrong

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:48pm
  44. But there are no gays in Sochi. The mayor said so!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:51pm
  45. Be careful, hunties!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:54pm
  46. Do I see Liza?

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:55pm
  47. No gays in Russia? LOL!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:56pm
  48. Thinking the best for all of you. Love and Peace.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 10:59pm
  49. Cool, so give away their location so they can get raided… great idea.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:04pm
  50. Bahahaha… there are no gay/lesbians there…did you not hear Pukme the Pres…. lolol..idiot

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:08pm
  51. Party like you mean it!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:12pm
  52. You know the Gov is not touching this place right now.

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:14pm
  53. mwahs from USA….sorry ur prez sux….it tooks us awhile to get OBAMA : )

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:15pm
  54. Haley…….will take your word for it. (smile)

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:21pm
  55. Is that Lisa Minelli?

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:23pm
  56. Looking good family!!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:30pm
  57. Much love to them!

    Posted on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 11:37pm
  58. Liza!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 12:06am
  59. Work it, fab sisters.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 12:34am
  60. Be safe

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 12:46am
  61. Wait I thought they didn’t have gays..lol

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 1:04am
  62. wha…but…I thought there WEREN’T any LGBTQs in Russia??

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 1:44am
  63. No, you surely must have made this up… There are no gays in Sochi. Sure.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 1:47am
  64. I stared at the guy behind them

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 1:55am
  65. oooh – It is true what they say about Russian women…

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 2:18am
  66. But there’s no gays right?

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 2:39am
  67. where are more pic of that sexy man in the back there??????????

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 2:43am
  68. Funny

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 3:18am
  69. They are going to be quite busy for the next few days!!!!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 3:29am
  70. check out the bling bling… ;)

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 4:02am
  71. These will make their mark in their own way!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 4:04am
  72. Gogogo…. Spread our wongs..
    How beautiful the live free ..

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 4:27am
  73. Fierce!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 4:46am
  74. i hope they are safe and stay safe…

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 5:23am
  75. That’s curious according to the mayor of Sochi there are NO gay people there.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 6:38am
  76. You must be mistaken. There are no gays in Sochi. ;)

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:15am
  77. How many times has the bar been attacked? After seeing “Hunted”, I’m shock that they actually have gay bars!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:34am
  78. Life goes on…

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:13am
  79. what russian President said there are no gays in my village ? looser

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:05am
  80. Stay strong my gay brothers and sisters and may you all live in peace. Keep the epicness alive. Brave is the passion you all have !

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 11:39am
  81. Love love them all and may they be so protected.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 11:45am
  82. Be safe..so scary

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 11:53am
  83. is that kris jenner? LOL. :P

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 11:59am
  84. Hey Vladdy baby, you Putin your shirt back on already?

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 12:54pm
  85. In Sochi? REALLY ?

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 1:01pm