Latest News: Posts Tagged ‘gay propaganda’

“The stories of those who survived detention and torture and are now living undercover in Putin’s Russia.” MASHA GESSEN in The New Yorker

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Read it here.

An excerpt from GAY PROPAGANDA to celebrate National Coming Out Day

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

“I’ll never forget it. I was 6. My mother and I went to the movies to see The Amphibian Man. In the middle of the movie, my mother bends down to me and whispers: ‘Look how beautiful Guttiere [the female protagonist] is!’ I nodded weakly, while not taking my eyes off Ichtiandr [the male protagonist]. I fell in love with him and asked to be taken to this movie a number of times. This goes to the question of why the very idea of ‘gay propaganda’ is absurd. As a biologist, I know that sexual orientation is formed in the womb and is impossible to influence in any direction. It’s not a matter of choice. When I was a child, I didn’t know any of this, of course, and didn’t understand why I was attracted to the beautiful Ichtiandr.”

—Vitaly, from Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories, edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon.

  Celebrates LGBTQ voices and National Coming Out Day

lean out cover

Dazed names GAY PROPAGANDA the best work of criticism in 2014

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

The Sochi Winter Olympics threw a glaring light on Russia this year – a good year, then, to publish a book of testimony from LGBT Russians living and loving, at home and in exile. Homophobia is state-endorsed in Russia, but individuals daily enact the extraordinary bravery of continuing to exist as their ordinary, authentic selves. A remarkable collection.

To read the rest of the article, visit Dazed

Joseph Huff-Hannon is interviewed on MSNBC’s The Cycle about GAY PROPAGANDA

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Watch the interview above or on MSNBC.

The Los Angeles Review of Books reviews GAY PROPAGANDA

Monday, March 24th, 2014

JUST A FEW YEARS AGO only a handful of scholars and activists had anything to say about gay Russians. Recently though, thanks to the conjunction of the Olympics and the passage of various anti-gay laws in Russia, it seems like everyone has had to confront it: cultural figures like Harvey Fierstein, who penned an op-ed in The New York Times; Stephen Fry, who included Russia in his documentary on gay rights; Dustin Lance Black and Gus van Sant, who went to Petersburg for the Side by Side film festival; activists like Peter Tatchell, Michael Petrelis, and Queer Nation, who staged demonstrations; President Obama, who chose gay and lesbian athletes to send as the official delegation to the Olympics. The press regularly asked President Putin, the IOC, and Olympic athletes their positions on the issue of gays in Russia.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to know: What is life like for gays in Russia? The question often comes with the implication that gay life there is a dark, dire affair, lived in fear and secrecy. High-profile laws and Western coverage of their passage have advanced this paradigm: laws such as the ban on “gay propaganda” and the ban preventing citizens of any country that allows marriage equality from adopting Russian orphans. Some critics have claimed that this paradigm is a distortion created by Western journalists; others, particularly left-leaning scholars, suggest that the direness of the situation for gay Russians has been exaggerated for propaganda purposes. Putin himself has pointed out that the criticism is hypocritical: there are, after all, anti-gay laws on the books in many US states, not to mention recent moves in several states to allow discrimination against gay people on religious grounds.

Amid all the vocal criticism and hand wringing, one has to wonder: what do gay Russians themselves have to say about being gay in Russia? It turns out a lot, and 29 of their life stories are revealed in their own words in the new collection Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories, edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon.

Read the full article at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Slate publishes an excerpt from GAY PROPAGANDA

Thursday, March 20th, 2014


When they come home from their office jobs to a small two-room apartment in a tiny town outside of Moscow, Marina and Elena change into almost-matching pajamas with cat-and-paw-print patterns. They are both 28, and they have been living together for less than a year.

Their story began in preschool, when Marina was in love with a boy named Kolya. They were so taken with each other that their parents ended up becoming good friends, staying in touch even after Marina and Kolya’s romance faded.

Marina and Kolya grew up and both married different people when they were 20—no younger than most Russians. Marina had a son. Nine months later, Kolya’s wife, Elena, was due to give birth to a daughter. Kolya suggested they go see Marina, whom he hadn’t seen in years. His parents had told him that she had a new baby with her husband, Vitya. They could go see what a real one looked like.

They went to visit, and the next day Elena had her baby.

Read the full excerpt at Slate.

GAY PROPAGANDA is featured on Immigration Equality

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Often, when we speak about the immigrant experience in America, we speak of opportunity and freedom, and for LGBT people, of safety, equality and being reunited with our loved ones in a place where it isn’t a crime to love them. Much of the time, we don’t talk about what we leave behind. In Alla Gorik, a matter-of-fact yet intimate short story, a Russian immigrant tells about having to move to New York without her girlfriend of two years, yet still talking to her every day. That complex push and pull between staying and leaving is also faced by many of her friends.

Gay Propaganda, a book of Russian love stories edited by Russian-American journalist and LGBT activist Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon, is a nod to the country’s 2013 ban on distributing gay “propaganda” to minors, including holding pride events, defending gay rights, and equating gay and heterosexual relationships. As the spotlight shifts from the Sochi Olympics to Crimea, we have to keep our eyes on those left behind — not only on their continued persecution, but on their humanity, the complex challenges they face, and their love. This is definitely the moment for Gay Propaganda.

Read the full post and excerpt at Immigration Equality.

GAY PROPAGANDA is reviewed in Haaretz

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Despite its success, the Sochi Winter Olympics will be remembered by many people for the law banning “gay propaganda” and the public representation of same-sex relations.

The law and the ensuing attacks on the LGBT community sparked a global protest; many world leaders did their part by not attending the Olympics’ opening ceremony.

American journalist Joseph Huff-Hannon wanted to get in on the action. Huff-Hannon, 32, who works in global civic organizations like Avaaz and has written for The New York Times and The Guardian, got interested in Russia last summer. What began as an idea for a magazine article soon developed into a book he co-edited with Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen: “Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories.” It’s out in both English and Russian.

Read the full review in Haaretz.

At Slate, MASHA GESSEN writes about corporations’ anti-LGBT behavior in Russia

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Pity the multinational corporation. It operates in many nations, and those nations are all so different!

Take, for example, a company like AIG or Ford. Or Coca-Cola. At home, in the United States, they have to be good for the gays, because that’s good for business. In Russia, the opposite is true. The level of corruption in the Russian government is rivaled only by its level of homophobia, and failing to toe the Kremlin’s anti-gay line can bring the ire of its entire extortionist, business-killing machine upon the corporation.

Read the full article at Slate.

Out Magazine features a review of GAY PROPAGANDA

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Glimpses of Russia—of the Olympics, the crippled construction and the atrocities conflicting the LGBT community—flood Western media. Yet, the physical threat and broader suppression of civil rights all but destroy the right of queer Russians to publicize the happy, romantic or even mundane stories of their lives.

For that reason, Joseph Huff-Hannon and Masha Gessen edited Gay Propaganda, providing a platform for queer Russians to tell their love stories in their own words. Over 10,000 copies of the Russian version have been downloaded already, circumventing tyrannical law and empowering the censored.

Read the full post at Out Magazine.

The Huffington Post reports on GAY PROPAGANDA‘s viral Russian e-book

Friday, February 28th, 2014

After officially launching on Feb. 13, a Russian language book titled Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories has gained global attention in the face of Russia’s extreme crackdown on its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

A collection of original stories, interviews and testimonials in both English in Russian, the e-book’s text aims to accurately capture the lives and love of LGBT Russians living both in the country and in exile. Edited by Russian journalist Masha Gessen and American activist Joseph Huff-Hannon, the Russian language version of Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories has already been downloaded more than 10,000 times since its release.

Read the full story on Huffington Post.

Lesbians North London reviews GAY PROPAGANDA

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I sat down to read Gay Propaganda but I certainly wasn’t expecting to be so affected by it. It’s a book of Russian gay love stories told by the men and women in them, some are still living in Russia and others have been forced to leave.

The book is funny, moving, familiar in some ways and shocking in others. Yet the feeling that stayed with me the longest is anger; anger that this could be happening in the 21st century; anger that that this is happening so close to us; anger that I don’t know what I – we – can do to help. I do know that rainbow logos, gay adverts and mocking Putin for holding the “gayest games” ever aren’t enough though.

Read the full review at Lesbians North London.

At Gawker, Rich Juzwiak praises Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon’s GAY PROPAGANDA

Monday, February 24th, 2014

One of the best things to come out of this anti-gay bullshit in Russia is Gessen’s elevated platform. This is wonderful not necessarily for her—Vitaly Milonov, author of the anti-gay propaganda bill, frequently uses her as an example of the kind of “pervert” his law is supposedly protecting children from; feeling at risk, Gessen eventually left the country—but for the world. She is a brilliant woman. She helped put together OR Books’ recent moving collection of LGBT Russian narratives, Gay Propaganda.

Read the full essay at Gawker.

MASHA GESSEN speaks to Immigration Equality about LGBT exile from Russia

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Watch the full stream of Asylum After Sochi on Youtube.

Next Magazine interviews Joseph Huff-Hannon about GAY PROPAGANDA

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Reading Gay Propaganda feels like getting to know a bunch of new friends at an intimate dinner party, listening to the revealing sort of stories that give you a true sense of someone’s spirit—and Gessen and Huff-Hannon’s fine editing allows the unique personality of each person interviewed to shine through on the page. Particularly personable are the couples’ courtship narratives, capturing the “No, no, you tell it!” quality of every meet-cute tale.

Read the full piece at Next Magazine.

At, JOSEPH HUFF-HANNON writes about the situation in Russia

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

This past Friday, while Russia’s extravagantly produced Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was broadcast worldwide, four activists in St. Petersburg were arrested and taken in to custody, as was their banner, which read, “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement.” That same evening while ballet dancers draped in glow in the dark costumes danced to Tchaikovsky in Sochi’s Olympic Stadium, ten more protestors in Moscow were arrested in Red Square for singing the national anthem and unfurling rainbow flags. The activists may well be charged with a low-level administrative offense (protesting without a permit,) but their late-night stand was clearly meant as a challenge to the country’s notorious new ban on “gay propaganda.”

For an authoritarian state, a law that is rarely, or only very selectively enforced, yet gives agents of the state broad leeway to police their citizens, and leads to wide-ranging changes in public and private behavior, is the best kind of law there is. Since it’s passage last June, only half a dozen people have actually been charged or tried for violating the vaguely worded ban—and perhaps that’s the point.

Read the full article at

GAY PROPAGANDA is featured on Towleroad

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Now a new book has been released, Gay Propaganda, edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon, that serves as “a collection of stories, interviews and testimonials about the lives and loves of LGBT Russians living both in Russia and in exile today.” The project tells the “tales of long-term commitment, dating, and daily life—offer[ing] a timely and intimate window into the lives of Russians persecuted for who they love.”

Read the full post at Towleroad.

Stories from GAY PROPAGANDA are shared by the PEN American Center

Friday, February 14th, 2014

As part of our Sochi Campaign feature, we set out to find the voices of the very people most affected by the recent laws enacted in Russia. What follows is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Gay Propaganda (OR Books), a collection of stories and testimonials, edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon, that offer a glimpse into the lives, loves, and politics of LGBT Russians.

Read both excerpts at the PEN American Center: Sergei and Olga and Irina.

For Valentine’s Day, GLAAD shares stories from GAY PROPAGANDA

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The book Gay Propaganda, edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon, provides a platform from which LGBT Russian voices can be heard. Gay Propaganda includes stories form gay couples raising their children, people living in exile to escape the anti-LGBT climate, advocates who have been arrested, and LGBT people from all walks of life.

Read both excerpts at GLAAD: Aleksandr and Ivan and Olga and Maria.

Melville House writes about “modern-day samizdat” in GAY PROPAGANDA

Friday, February 14th, 2014

More infamous, of course, is Russia’s 2013 law against “homosexual propaganda,” effectively banning all forms of speech in support of gay rights. Western media have extensively covered the law’s most obvious consequences—public demonstrations thwarted, activists arrested, LGBT people beaten and tortured—but equally important is the stultifying effect of the law on Russian culture, including literature. In fact, it has forced the reintroduction of a literary form presumed to have ended with the USSR: samizdat, the illegally self-published texts circulated surreptitiously by Soviet dissidents.

As with writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Mikhail Bulgakov in the Soviet Union, LGBT writers in modern Russia have suddenly found themselves silenced, unable to write honestly or speak freely about their lives without breaking the law. Now some of these voices have been collected in a new book of stories and testimonials called Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories.

Read the full article at the Melville House blog.

JOSEPH HUFF-HANNON is interviewed by the Rumpus

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

As the 2014 Sochi Olympics get underway, the biggest story is not any particular event. No perfect triple-axel or record-setting bobsled time will overshadow that which will define this Olympics in history as surely as John Carlos’s and Tommie Smith’s raised fists at the 1968 games in Mexico City.

Russia’s clownish anti-gay laws have sparked intimidation and violence against the country’s LGBT community and have put state-sanctioned homophobia in the global spotlight. But author and activist Joseph Huff-Hannon set out to write a book about the flip side of this story—true tales of gay and lesbian Russians at home and within the diaspora—and in an oral history reminiscent of Studs Terkel, Huff-Hannon and his co-editor, Masha Gessen (herself an out journalist who recently fled Russia and wrote about it for The Guardian last year), chronicle individual tales of this community. These are ordinary people living their lives as best they know how in unexpected and frightening circumstances.

Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories is absolutely illegal under the new Russian law, but it stands as a testament to the idea that the best defense against bigotry and narrow-mindedness is a good offense: take some humanity and shove it in your face. Huff-Hannon and Gessen hope to circulate the Russian-language version of the book within the country’s borders, and I recently spoke with Huff-Hannon about how he hopes this book can contribute to the resistance against Russia’s heightened homophobia.

Read the full interview at The Rumpus.

The New Yorker excerpts two stories from GAY PROPAGANDA

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

When we meet, Oleg pulls out a novel by journalist Artur Solomonov, which he says caused a fair share of controversy when published earlier this year in Russia. Its protagonist is an actor who falls in love with another actor. None of the major publishing houses would publish it. A small publisher finally picked it up, releasing the book with a disclaimer on the back cover: “This work does not contain homosexual propaganda and is not meant to offend people of faith.” Despite—or perhaps thanks to—the controversy, Oleg says the book is selling well.

I was born and grew up in Saratov, Russia. It’s a provincial town, built on a mix of old-fashioned Orthodox Christian values (which condemned homosexuality as a sin) and Soviet beliefs (when most people thought that homosexuality didn’t exist in the Soviet Society at all).

Read Oleg and Dmitriy‘s and Tatiana‘s stories at The New Yorker.

GAY PROPAGANDA is featured in Sabotage Reviews

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

The democratic credentials of Putin’s Russia have been getting shakier and shakier in recent years (cf. Pussy Riot). After the suppression of pro-democracy protests in 2013 and the Kremlin’s ongoing support for Syria’s President Assad, the last thing President Putin needs is a new law that crushes the basic freedoms of millions of his own people at the same time that Russia enters the global sporting spotlight.

Unfortunately, in June 2013, Russia passed a law banning the promotion of ‘non-traditional’ lifestyles and the implication that homosexual relationships have an equal footing with heterosexual (read ‘normal’) ones. While homosexuality remains legal, there are fewer and fewer protections against hate crimes, and greater implication that being gay is not ok.

As I sit writing this (in relative safety in Britain), tens of millions of people around the world are watching the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. There were some good bits with huge, floating Soviet heads and a ring that failed to open up. It’s traditional for Olympic Opening Ceremonies to celebrate the achievements and values of the host nation; you might remember London 2012′s Opening Ceremony celebrated the Industrial Revolution, the NHS, British film and Shakespeare. With a global audience, you want to put your best wares out on the market.

Read the full essay at Sabotage Reviews.

GAY PROPAGANDA and Words Will Break Cement are reviewed in The Independent

Friday, February 7th, 2014

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.

The Quietus features an extract from GAY PROPAGANDA

Friday, February 7th, 2014

We met on a dating website. It was November 26, 2010.

Mikhail mentioned that he wasn’t ready to meet for dating or anything serious. But it was the same for me. I just had in mind meeting up to talk. Nothing serious. It was the pictures of his dogs that caught my eye. I remember I asked him about them, what kind of dogs they were, because I love dogs. That’s how the conversation started. I was working as an administrative assistant at the time, so I didn’t like going back and forth on email. All these long messages about nothing. So I asked him to meet.

Read the full extract at The Quietus.

JOSEPH HUFF-HANNON writes in the Guardian about LGBT activism and Sochi

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

The problem with trying to disappear people who refuse to disappear is that their stories find a way of getting told. That’s the case with Andrei Tanichev and Roman Kochagov, owners of a thriving gay friendly cabaret in Sochi. Andrei and Roman, along with dozens of other Russian LGBT men and women, opened up about their relationships in a new book publishing next week, in English and in Russian, called Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories. The book is edited by myself and award-winning Russian journalist Masha Gessen.

Read the full op-ed at the Guardian.

The New York Daily News writes about ex-pats’ role in the publication of GAY PROPAGANDA

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Several members of Rusa LGBT contributed stories to a oral history book with the tongue-in-cheek title Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories, which is set to be published in Russian and English by OR Books and distributed underground in Russia with athletes, journalists and others heading to the Sochi games bringing copies.

Read the full piece at the New York Daily News.

Guernica interviews MASHA GESSEN about Putin, Sochi, and exile

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Masha Gessen is no stranger to risk. The Russian reporter and political activist is perhaps best known for her probes of the Kremlin machine and unsparing descriptions of Vladimir Putin as a dictatorial thug. In her 2012 book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, Gessen offers a psychological portrait of the Russian president and writes that the city of his birth (Leningrad, now St. Petersburg) was “a mean, hungry, impoverished place that bred mean, hungry, ferocious children.” A seasoned chronicler of Russia’s crackdown on free expression, Gessen has most recently examined the story of the band Pussy Riot, three of whose members were imprisoned for two years in 2012 after their minute-long “punk prayer,” beseeching the “Mother of God” to “get rid of Putin.” Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot was published this January.

Read the full interview at Guernica.

Longreads features an excerpt from GAY PROPAGANDA

Friday, January 31st, 2014

I was born and grew up in Saratov, Russia. It’s a provincial town, built on a mix of old-fashioned Orthodox Christian values (which condemned homosexuality as a sin) and Soviet beliefs (when most people thought that homosexuality didn’t exist in the Soviet Society at all).

Both of my parents worked, and I was on my own a lot. I was a good kid, though. I did my homework, stayed home, and didn’t get into trouble. I was also shy and sometimes had a hard time socializing. My father was a history professor at the university, and my mom worked for a non-profit organization.

Read the full excerpt at Longreads.

VICE speaks to GAY PROPAGANDA co-editor Joseph Huff-Hannon

Friday, January 17th, 2014

In less than a month, the world will turn its attention to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. As the Russian government gets ready for the event, the gay community is preparing in a slightly different way.

Putin’s ultimate fuck-you move to the Russian gay community was the recent ban on gay “propaganda,” and in the fight back, the publishing company, OR Books, will release a collection of testimonials, interviews, and stories about being gay and in love in Russia on the eve of the Olympics. Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories provides a glimpse into the ongoing abuse and intolerance, and will bring much needed hope and reassurance to young LGBT people of Russia.

I wanted to know a little more about the book and its timely release, so I spoke with one of the book’s editors, Joseph Huff-Hannon. Joseph is a journalist and an activist who has strong ties to the global LGBT right group, All Out.

Read the full interview at VICE.

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