Sochi gay scene in decline before Russia hosts Winter Games

Tue Dec 17, 2013 5:12am EST
 
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By Thomas Grove

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - At the Mayak Cabaret, one of the few gay clubs in Russia's Olympic city of Sochi, the nightly drag show starts with a drum roll before a performer in a brunette wig lip synchs "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend".

But when the show is over at one of the last landmarks of a once vibrant gay scene in Sochi, the lights fall on an audience made up mostly of straight couples who came for the novelty.

Sochi's gay scene has been shrinking since Russia won the right to host the 2014 Winter Games, and the decline has continued since President Vladimir Putin signed a law this year banning the spread of "gay propaganda" among minors.

The new law has focused attention on Sochi, which will host many foreigners as well as Russians during the Olympics. Some gay activists question its legality and others have called for a boycott of the Games in protest.

Many members of the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have left the country. They worry Sochi's reputation as a city of tolerance will decline further.

"There is no gay community here. It's a myth," said Roman Kochagov, who co-owns Mayak.

"The number of gays has dropped for years. Every year there have been fewer and fewer ... now they have almost all disappeared," he said, adding that he himself is looking to leave the country.

He says on any given night only a third of his customers are gay men, far fewer than when he opened the club nine years ago.   Continued...

 
Gay rights activist Vladislav Slavsky (R) poses for a photograph with his boyfriend, who wants to remain anonymous, at the Black Sea promenade in Sochi, south western Russia October 21, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter