Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: Gay Matchmaking and Culture

While we don’t ordinarily associate gay rights with any country whose name ends in “-stan,” there are signs of growing gay life in two Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Compared to their more oppressive neighbors like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and China, these two nations lean ever-so-slightly westward and harbor less hostility toward gays and lesbians. This doesn’t mean Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are oases for gay matchmaking and culture, but there are no longer criminal penalties for homosexuality. And the cities of Almaty and Bishkek even feature gay bars!

So why are Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan gay-friendlier, you ask? Well, after the Soviet Union dissolved and several new countries appeared in Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan adopted (somewhat) more democratic governments while Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan developed oppressive regimes. Moreover, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have significant Christian populations that coexist rather peacefully alongside the Muslims, so the religious diversity – while in no way embracing gay culture – at least sets a stage for tense but stable social tolerance. Also, because their economies are more open to foreign tourists and businesspeople, the people in cities like Almaty and Bishkek have become more comfortable with Western (read: liberal) values.

Kazakhstan: Gay Matchmaking

The Kazakh cultural center, Almaty, is one of the more cosmopolitan cities in Central Asia. It features two places for gay nightlife, a European-style gay club called Real and a popular dance spot known as Frick.

Real (ul. Raimbeka , 152) attracts a primarily twenty-something crowd for gay matchmaking – a mixed group of Kazakhs and tourists. Open nightly at 11:00pm, this is a party-until dawn place with a small (sometimes nonexistent) cover charge for men and a nominal fee for women. In addition to dancing, Real occasionally presents drag shows and other expected gay bar entertainment. Westerners often seek each other out for gay matchmaking at Real, the best enclave for alternative lifestyles within Kazakhstan. You can visit Real online at http://real.gay.kz, but you’ll need to translate the page into English.

Frick (ul of Gogol). What a fun name for a gay-friendly bar! As the alternative to Real, Frick is not exclusively gay, but it’s a very progressive place to dance.

The gay community in Kazakhstan also enjoys a dedicated website, www.gay.kz, parts of which are available in English. The news section is up-to-date, although it needs to be translated via an engine. The site also features message boards, chat rooms, and other resources. Since public expression of gay identity outside of the clubs is still unsafe, gay Kazakhs and visitors use this website to stay connected and aid in matchmaking.

Kyrgyzstan: Gay Matchmaking

Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, is a smaller and less internationally significant city than Almaty, but it also features two places for gay matchmaking. These gay bars, however, are smaller and less accessible than those in Almaty.

Spiders, located near a large department store called Tsuma, is actually a basement club with overly discriminating bouncers. They’re particularly vigilant about letting in unfamiliar people, probably because they want to avoid the corrupt police and ensure safety for patrons. It may be worth finding a gay Bishkek resident to serve as your “guide,” a term often reserved for men who provide escort services without the sex. See if you can pre-arrange a connection with someone over the internet.

Lighthouse, a combination restaurant/bar in the city center, tends to attract and older crowd but is not as hard to find or as difficult to enter as Spiders.

Final Thoughts and Gay Matchmaking and Culture

Remember that, while these two countries are slightly more progressive than their neighbors, homosexuality is still largely frowned upon and misunderstood. The concept of a gay identity is foreign to the Kazakh and Kyrgyz cultures, so the majority of people do not understand the need for gay matchmaking and support. Gay visitors should use caution, not display affection openly, and keep a lower profile – but the subculture can still be explored.

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