In 2006, while working as a news reporter, I was sent on a hare-brained assignment to Kazakhstan to find the “real-life” Borat, shortly after the release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s film. What were the chances of success?

Miraculously, I stumbled across a close approximation: a local TV celebrity in Almaty with big dreams who showered me with tourist trinkets from the airport shop and talked about breaking into television abroad. It was hard not to warm to his outlook – until he started talking about homosexuality. How “in the Soviet Union, it was a crime. We were told it was our duty to beat them. It is different now – we have at least three gay bars in Almaty…”

Judging from the true accounts in Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories, it seems as if Soviet bigotry is still ensconced in the Kremlin. Where Pussy Riot’s punk performances have shown what waves a high-octane protest can make, this book presents another way for state repression to be resisted: by telling one’s story and distributing it. Gay Propaganda is composed of verbatim love stories (not all with happy endings) spoken by gays, lesbians and transsexuals either living in Russia or emigres, not least the book’s co-editor, Masha Gessen, who left Russia after “Vitaly Milonov, the St Petersburg politician who was one of the main spokespeople for the ‘propaganda’ bill, told the country’s highest-circulation daily that Russian orphans needed to be saved from ‘perverted families like Masha Gessen’s’.”

Read the full article in The Independent.

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