In the official Olympic records, you can mark me down for my trip to Sochi's gay bar as: DNF. Our production the last Saturday night of the Games didn't wind down until after 12:30 am. Facing a 50 minute taxi ride just to get there (and back), plus the fact the crew and talent started drinking beers and BS'ing on the patio (which, if you throw in some dead cow on a BBQ, you'd have one of my favorite things to do anyway), PLUS our blanket-coverage security were adamant I would not go alone, my plans for the Mayak were officially scrapped.
So consider this our silver medal. I had to have some sort of gay experience while I was in Russia, so I figured I would do a little experiment and come out to some of the local crew and hotel staff on hand at 1:30 in the morning (and after a couple cans of courage juice). Rather than just say, "oh by the way, I'm homosexual," because that's boring, I had to do it creatively. So when talking about our makeup team (three incredibly kind and funny but stereotypically looking Russian makeup artists...they were tall and gorgeous, even I wanted to do dirty things with them, like watch them eat carbs), I flashed a couple of my drag pictures from my days performing in college at The Beach in Moscow(!), Idaho, with fantastic eye-shadow and lips, and pointed at myself.
I'll never forget the looks on their faces. They lit up with smiles, even the couple men on hand, and just started laughing. That's when I dropped the, "and yes I'm gay." The women hugged me, the super-sassy-dominatrix front desk girl (I want her to be my best friend) who always wore fierce heels grabs my hand and says,"I like you so much better now." She also said I couldn't have her shoes, and I happily replied I didn't want them, and there's no way I could have done those badboys justice anyway. The guys shook my hand, one telling me that I was a "cool guy."
Why we failed in Sochi
Our LGBT efforts around the Olympics did have some positive developments, but we ultimately failed LGBT Russians because we didn't risk anything the way many of them risk every day.
I never take for granted I have been incredibly fortunate to have received nearly unanimous positive reception when I've come out, and am lucky my good fortune continued. In Russia. Some of our American crew said I was brave, and maybe so, but not nearly as brave as our family that has to live in this country. They have allies here, and I hope they never stop fighting.
On to Closing Ceremonies Sunday...
Working in this industry, there are few greater times than the wrap party. And while cooped up in our little hotel, the beer and champagne deliveries were fast and constant. For me, the fun was indescribable. I mean (warning: couple name drops ahead), but I'm beer in hand in our green room, music's blaring, Andy Finch is playing the fiddle, and I'm either having a heart-to-heart with Picabo Street or dancing (my version of it anyway) with Michelle Kwan. Three great people to work with every day, and just great human beings all around. It was ridiculous.
Quick note: It also happened to be a Russian holiday, Man's Day. Yes. Man's Day! I walked into the hotel in the morning and all the guys are wearing the standard fluffy hats and camo coats and being proud to have machismo. And Russia was winning the gold and overall medal count, so the place was alive and buzzing. And everyone's gleefully drinking before 10 am, because Man's Day. I approve.
But back to the party...it's now 3am and we need more beer and (stupidly) a woman from the New Zealand crew and I decide it would be a good idea to go to the 24-hour market a block away. Inside the store as we waited forever for the glacially-paced credit card machine (the internet here is touch-and-go but yes, all our websites worked, thankfully), these two guys in their 20s started talking to me. Once they found out I wasn't Russian, they spoke broken English, asked if I was an American, and called me, a few times, "beautiful man." Before I broke into the usual Siff response of a big smile, accepting my compliment and trying to be charming, my brain snapped into action, remember where you are and what you are and that you are not protected.
The previously unfelt fears from when I first got here flooded back, the memories of so many sad stories of entrapment starting out the same way immediately came to mind. I then ignored them, turned to my compatriot and said we need to get back to our hotel and don't talk to anyone. We walked outside greeted by five to six drunk guys and again, it's Man's (Drinking All) Day. Lots of them are giving us the finger, shouting "uuuh (something) Americans!"
I leaned over to the Kiwi and said "aren't you insulted, they just called you an American," bad timing for a joke I know but, "don't look back, don't say anything, no hand gestures, head down, keep walking we're one block away from our hotel."
Security wasn't happy with us upon return, but thankfully it was a non-event, because of necessary overreaction. I know these things can happen anywhere, West Hollywood to here, but to be in Russia it could have been so much worse, with so little done to stop it from happening again. They were feelings of true insecurity I've never experienced because of where I've lived that I will always remember, and have an immense respect for our community here, even if my time as an out gay man was only brief.
Overall, it was an incredible experience to not only work at an Olympics, but to do it in Russia at this time in history, few things will ever match the past month. I've had a great time getting to know some incredible and warm people, and despite all the government-happenings, it will always hold a special place in my heart. Some of the hotel staff cryed when we left. The guys from the bar wrote out long messages on their iPhones and translated them so we could really understand how thankful they were to get to know us. Even Black Valentine wore a USA Hockey hat (but no smile, as per usual). It was a moment that I will always cherish.
And putting my thoughts to e-paper to share with Outsports has been a pleasure, something unexpected and very much appreciated. Also thanks to my bosses for allowing me to do this, Cyd for asking, Todd at FOX Sports for helping me clean them up but never change them, and Sky Sports New Zealand's Scotty Stevenson who was hilariously upset from the picture on a previous post with me holding the torch and "someone holding him," that he wasn't named. But he tweeted out the link anyway (@sumostevenson). He is the best.
I really loved my time in Russia. But it's great to be home. And to live here.
A little about me: A native of Seattle, I was born at Swedish Hospital (blocks away from the Capitol Hill gay bars...a little foreshadowing!), graduated with a degree in Journalism and Sport Management from Washington State University (class of '03, Go Cougs!). Moved to LA two weeks after graduation and have lived in and loved my adopted hometown ever since. Landed my first job with FOX Sports in September of 2004 running TV compounds for NFL, MLB, the BCS while we had it, and NASCAR. After another stint with FOXSports.com, I have been with FOX Sports 1 since June of last year.