Sochi’s mayor says there are no gay people in his town. Yet a gay club there boasts 400 guests a night

If there are no gay people in Sochi, why are the city’s gay clubs still in business?

Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, told BBC’s Panorama last weekend that there were no gay people in the Winter Olympics host city. None.

When Pakhomov was asked if gay people had to hide their sexuality in the city after the passage of Russia‘s controversial law banning homosexual “propaganda” last year, he replied, “No, we just say that it is your business, it’s your life. But it’s not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city.”

More from GlobalPost: Putin says Russia won’t go after gays as long as they leave kids alone

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov called Pakhomov’s claim laughable. “As far as I know there are several gay clubs in Sochi.

“How do they survive? Why they are not bankrupt?”

Mayak is one such club, a cabaret venue where drag queens strut their stuff on stage. The club even created Olympic-themed “Sochi Mayak 2014” flyers to promote itself during the games, featuring drag queens dressed as figure skaters, skiers and bobsledders.

Mayak’s popularity reportedly grew as the city expanded with the construction of Olympic venues, according to The Daily Beast. As of last October, it was attracting up to 400 guests a night.

The club’s owner Andrei Tenichev told the Associated Press in September that the Russian Olympic Committee didn’t question Mayak’s existence because “they don’t want the slightest scandal” in the months leading up to the Olympic games.

Tenichev hoped that Sochi’s gay culture would survive post-Olympics despite Russia’s draconian anti-gay law. Known as a refuge for Russian gay people during the Soviet era, the souther resort town has slowly seen a decline in gay visitors, according to Tenichev. 

Once drawn to the town’s “what-happens-in-Sochi-stays-in-Sochi” allure, many gay Russians are now opting to travel elsewhere because of the government’s crackdown.

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