(Stuart Braun’s article appeared on DW, 1/16/24.)

Russia under Vladimir Putin is again demonizing LGBTQ persons, calling them “extremists.” But Russia’s queer artists are finding ways to express themselves — even if in exile.

In 2020, the world was heralding a new wave of queer creativity in Russia, a state that had outlawed much LGBTQ cultural life. 

“The country’s LGBTQ+ music and nightlife scene is changing how the world looks at Russian youth,” beamed i-D magazine in April that year. Gay artist, model and musician Angel Ulyanov embodied this idea, his latest single and video serving to “dismantle homophobia” in the former Soviet Union.     

Founded only five years after President Vladimir Putin’s infamous “gay propaganda law” was passed in 2013, the Moscow-based publication O-Zine was then a vanguard of the queer culture underground.

But this seeming tolerance has largely evaporated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. O-Zine appears to be on hold and many queer artists have since gone into exile.

In November 2022, Russia’s parliament widened the gay propaganda law that essentially outlawed same-sex relationships, or in the words of the law, the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. The new law now bans any material that is positive about LGBTQ lifestyles across books, films, advertising and online.

Lawmakers say they are defending “traditional” Russian values against the permissive liberal “West,” an argument that has been used to justify attacking Ukraine.

For Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein, LGBTQ “is an element of hybrid warfare and in this hybrid warfare we must protect our values, our society and our children,” the politician said in October 2022 as he was proposing the new LGBTQ propaganda law. A month after it passed,  independent Russian publisher Popcorn Books was forbidden to sell LGBTQ books. 

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