Life goes on for gays in Olympic Sochi

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 9, 2014 at 10:22 am •  Published: February 9, 2014
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — 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-storey 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.

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."

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