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Advocate: SOCHI, RUSSIA — There was no place to stand in Cabaret Mayak without blocking someone’s view of the stage, stepping on a foot, or inhaling cigarette smoke. Patrons sat at tables surrounding the dance floor in the small, dark room. A man in a suit started to shuffle dancing visitors off the stage. A young, blond girl holding a balloon in the shape of a heart flashed to life on a screen.

She began to sing Russia’s national anthem in a mousy voice and was soon joined by most of the customers, who held their drinks and fists in the air. It isn’t what you’d expect to hear at an American drag show. But here they belted the words, showing off their national pride. Afterward, people chugged their drinks and cheered, and two men kissed at the bar.

The drag show at Sochi’s most popular gay bar was starting.

Cabaret Mayak’s popularity snowballed with its hometown hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. As co-owner of one of the few “out of the closet” gay bars in Russia, Andrei Tanichev (pictured right) has been interviewed more than 200 times, which is likely far more than most Olympic athletes.

His “popularity” was spawned last year by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s signing of a bill classifying “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” as a punishable crime. Those who make pro-gay statements are at risk of getting arrested or fined. The law, however, is often overlooked in Sochi, Tanichev assures reporters.

“Sochi is just like all other parts of the world,” Tanichev said. “We have gay people here, and we are not hiding.” At a time when Putin is doing his best to make a good impression on the world, Tanichev can sometimes sound in sync. “Sochi is a very open-minded city; it’s very multicultural and young and forward-thinking.”

Tanichev’s club has attracted the spotlight during the games, and Cabaret Mayak puts on a good show.

 

Sochi’s Original Diva
Andrei Sargisyan stood in the doorway of Cabaret Mayak’s dressing room dodging cameramen. Standing in a two-foot-by-two-foot room, he used a tiny mirror to put on his earrings. His contoured face scrunched as a photographer bumped into his back.

“We have been getting a lot of attention from the media,” Sargisyan said. “But we are not surprised or turned off by the attention we get. In fact, it’s not that different from the rest of the time here. We are superstars here.”

Sargisyan has been dressing in women’s clothing since he was in second grade. Growing up in Armenia, he would change his clothes when no one was home and perform in front of the mirror. Practicing his performances only in private would continue until he saw a man singing in front of Lakomka, an ice-cream shop in Sochi, in 1996. The man stood on a bench wearing a wig with split ends, an oversize dress, and sneakers. People on the street tipped him as he performed, and Sargisyan’s eyes opened.

It was the first thing in Sochi he saw that made him feel better in his own skin, he said.

“I still don’t know if he was an actual drag queen or just a straight man having a little fun,” Sargisyan said. “I remember watching him sing terribly and getting paid for it. I thought, I have been doing this my whole life: it’s time I make some money.

One month later, at age 22, Sargisyan was on the stage at Lakomka for the first time as Mijuja. He pulled various necessities from girlfriends — he borrowed shoes from one, a dress from another — and bought a wig. After the first show, he knew he could make a business out of performing.

He began appearing in cafés, parks, apartments, or wherever he could find a crowd willing to watch and tip. It wasn’t long until others began copying what Sargisyan was doing. They would use the same songs and mimic his costumes, but no one asked for help until Gdyan Bartan Bartanovich saw a performance. Afterward, he approached Sargisyan, who agreed to mentor Bartanovich because he was also Armenian.

“We share the same blood,” Sargisyan said. “I let him perform for me and saw potential, so I decided to help him. Plus, I was the only consistent queen of the time. If we performed as a team, the shows would run smoother.”

Sochi’s first drag family was born.

Advocate: After the death of her mother, King will participate in the closing ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games.

Tennis player Billie Jean King will head to Sochi after all, despite having to remain in the United States instead of participate in the opening ceremony, to take care of her ailing mother.

King, a tennis icon, was originally named to the U.S. delegation for the Sochi games’ opening ceremony. However, days before the opening ceremony, King and the White House announced that she would have to remain in the States, and hockey player Caitlin Cahow would take her place.

King’s mother passed away February 7 at her home in Arizona at age 91.

 

Brewdog

Towleroad: The Scottish BrewDog brewery has sent a case of ‘protest beer’ which mocks Russia’s ban on ‘gay propaganda’ to President Vladimir Putin, the BBC reports:

Hello My Name is Vladimir has been made by Aberdeenshire-based BrewDog. The company said half the profits from the sales of the beer would be donated to charities that “represent oppressed minorities around the world”.

BrewDog co-founder James Watt said: “As Hello My Name is Vladimir is clearly marked ‘not for gays’ we should bypass the legislation outlawing supposed ‘homosexual propaganda’.”

The company has sent a case of the beer to President Putin, who is depicted wearing make-up on the bottles.

Brewdogbeer

Writes the company in a post on its blog:

Hello, my name is Vladimir. I am a beer for uber hetero men who ride horses while topless and carrying knives. I am a beer to mark the 2014 Winter Olympics. But I am not for gays. Love wrestling burly men on the Judo mat or fishing in your Speedos? Then this is the beer for you!

 

Outsports: Wrestling is back as an Olympic sport through 2024 after making changes to the sport that got it approved by the International Olympic Committee this weekend. Wrestling had been dropped earlier this year and was forced to win a vote for reinstatement starting in 2020.

Among the changes will be the way wrestlers are dressed, including possibly having Greco Roman wrestler compete shirtless.

“We will change everything,” said Nenad Lalovic, the president of wrestling’s international federation (FILA). “The whole scenery of the venue.” The red-and-yellow mat will go the way of the full Nelson, replaced perhaps by shades of blue.

“Our singlets are so old fashioned,” Lalovic said. Freestyle wrestlers could wear fight shorts and a tight-fitting microfiber T-shirt. Greco-Roman wrestlers may even go shirtless.

This is shaping up to be the best Olympics ever, thanks to Russia’s anti-gay law.

Outsports: Canadian speedskater Anatasia Bucsis has become the second Winter Olympics hopeful to come out publicly as gay in response to the passing of anti-gay laws in Russia. Bucsis marched in this weekend’s Calgary pride parade. From the Toronto Globe and Mail:

“I could never promote that message of concealing who you are with all of this going on in Russia. I’m kind of happy that I did it on my own terms,” said Ms. Bucsis, who is hoping to qualify for Sochi in long-track speed skating. She’s on track to make the cut: Not only did the 24-year-old compete for Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Games, she is on the national team and has set personal bests this year.

Bucsis described herself as “vanilla” and “boring,” but by her public actions she has made a statement that is anything but. Two weeks ago, Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff also came out in reaction to the laws. New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup has been out for two years and has also spoken out about Russia’s laws.

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