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 Russia allows first gay magazine

The Times, January 14, 2004

From Jeremy Page
in Moscow

WHEN, in 1987, Ed Mishin realized that he was gay, homosexuality was a crime punishable by up to five years in prison under Soviet law; now he is free to visit one of Moscow's many gay clubs or surf a host of Russian gay- oriented websites without fear of arrest.

Yet a decade after homosexual relations were legalized. Gay life in Russia is largely confined to nightclubs and the internet. Like elsewhere, homophobia is rife, condoned by the Church and encouraged by populist politicians. Many gays still face a lifetime of denial or discrimination, Mr Mishin, a former technology journalist, hopes to change that with Russia's first gay magazine, KVIR.

We want something more than gay dubs and having sex in dark rooms" he told The Times at his office In Central Moscow. "We are all isolated and separated. It doesn't feel like a community. To be protected, we must be united."

The glossy monthly, launched in August features a mixture of homoerotic photographs, Interviews with gay people and weighty ankles about homosexual issues. Sold at bookstores, saunas, gay clubs and kiosks, already it has a nationwide readership of 15,000.

Mr Mishin's next project is to set up Russia's first gay community centre. But KVIR a transliteration of "queer" has yet to break even and unless business puts up it could end within six months. Mr Mishin, 30, insists that the pictures of nude men are artistic, but Many distributors consider them pornographic and are reluctant to put KVIR on sale beside heterosexual erotic magazines or mainstream publications.

KVIR also has trouble attracting advertising. "It's a profitable idea, but stereotypes stop advertisers," Mr Mishin said "They worry that it will damage their brands." In fact, he said, the "pink rouble" Is one of Russia's great unrealized business opportunities. The average KV1R reader is aged between 25 and 35, travels, uses a credit card and owns a car exactly the kind of consumer that many companies want to target.

Mr Mishin is banking on business to help to change attitudes, but he also wants support from the Government and, above all, the Church.
When he applied for permission to put advertisements for KVIR on the Moscow metro, the city authorities refused. "They said it would offend people with Christian values," he said.

Russian law was changed in 1993 to allow relations between consenting males over 18, but gays and lesbians cannot legally marry, adopt children or have parental rights over a partner's child. That is due largely to the Church, which deems homosexuality to be a death sin, bans same-sex marriages and homosexual priests and advocates barring gays and lesbians from teaching or senior army and prison posts.

Mr Mishin said: "My goal is to build a strong gay community, like in America, and to make homosexuality a normal thing in Russia We want to show people we are not always thinking about sex.

The Times

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