Sochi Gays Don't Want an Olympic Confrontation
(SOCHI, Russia) -- If President Obama was trying to send a message by appointing openly gay tennis legend Billie Jean King to the official American delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he may have nailed it for some in Sochi's gay community. While gay rights groups in the United States have called for a boycott of the games to protest Russia's new anti-gay laws, Sochi's gays don't necessarily see it that way.
Behind a heavy, locked door, in a dark alley just off the beach promenade, Sochi's biggest gay club, Mayak Cabaret, is packed. The owner, Andrei Tanichev, told ABC News recently that he's against an Olympic boycott. He also opposes a massive gay rights protests during the games, fearing the gay community will be blamed for ruining the event. Instead, he'd like to see athletes and fans show their support in more subtle ways.
"I think that expressions have to be positive. I don't know, maybe something symbolic. Maybe a kiss. Something positive," he said. "I would like some athletes to come out -- those who win, for example," he suggested, drawing comparisons to Jesse Owens' victories in the face of Nazi racism during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Tanichev says Russians consider gays to be "freaks or pedophiles," and therefore he hopes if a star athlete can come out of the closet, it might help break down crippling stereotypes. "What is important for me as far as the Olympics are concerned and in general, is that when they show gays, that they are seen like ordinary citizens," he said. In fact, he would one day love to close his gay club and know that all people are welcome everywhere. "So during the Olympics beautiful, good-looking athletes, who look like ordinary men, should show that they are no different from heterosexual athletes," he said.
Sochi was long regarded as a relatively liberal part of Russia. Thanks to its beach culture and influx of tourists, Sochi's gays say they always felt more accepted -- and safer -- here than anywhere else. "I personally, honestly feel very comfortable here, and this is nothing to do with the Olympics because I have been living here for 12 years. I have not ever had any social problems," Tanichev said. "Everyone knows that I am gay."
Elsewhere in Russia, that is far from the case. A movement called Occupy Pedophelia is targeting gays online, tricking them into meeting in person and then humiliating or beating them on camera. Tanichev used to work in gay clubs in Moscow, but felt it was too risky. Indeed, just last week a gay club in Moscow was attacked. But Russian President Vladimir Putin's embrace of more conservative measures is being felt even in Sochi. Tanichev said, if given the chance, he wants to move to Western Europe or the United States.
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