Sochi gay bar uneasy over Olympic spotlight

Mayak is a gay bar in Sochi Russia. Located in an alley in downtown Sochi, Mayak has no sign identifying the establishment as a gay bar. The front door is locked with security guards and a camera. Mayak sounds somewhat reminiscent of the pre-Stonewall era of gay bars in New York, when patrons feared being arrested or publicly outed in the press or something even worse. The patrons of the Mayak Bar, which means lighthouse, are concerned about the attention the LGBT community in Russia is getting over Putin’s anti-LGBT laws combined with the international attention from the Olympics. Their concern is what will be after the Olympic torch goes out and all the visitors and athletes go home. They are “scared” and uncomfortable with the attention the Russian LGBT community is getting from the international media.

USA Today reports:

"It's a very hard thing to explain to foreigners," he said. "Russia suffered a lot for the past centuries. We had dictators. Putin is a dictator, also. People went to prisons during Stalin's time just for nothing, no reason. Most Russians live with the mentality, with the thought in their mind that at some point everyone could be taken to prison for no reason."

Meanwhile, the bar – more spacious than you might expect, with a stage in front, sofa booths and an open kitchen that serves European food and sushi -- was beginning to fill up as the drag show was about to start. Groups of three and four began knocking on the door to Mayak, which is translated to "Lighthouse," meeting the approval of the host before being waved through. The Olympics have brought a lot of unfamiliar faces to Sochi, which makes the owner of Mayak uncomfortable. Typically, he said, you couldn't get in unless you were a trusted friend.

How long will it be like this? When will they feel safe enough not to take such precautions? Can the patrons here envision a day when Russia stops going backwards and catches up to the rest of the modern world?

"I hope," Ozerny said, "but I don't know."

GLAAD included a mention about Mayak in the GLAAD Olympic Playbook as a pitfall for media to avoid. As the USA Today reported, the mere existance of a gay bar in Russia does not mean safety for LGBT people. It is important for the international community to keep their attention on the harmful anti-LGBT laws in Russia and the pain these laws are causing. Even when the Olympic torch goes out, we must continue to help bring light to the darkness of the lives of LGBT Russians.