Faces of Russia's LGBT community

  • Ghibi Shavgulizdze and Ortem Viktovskiy, a gay couple, embrace in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 19, 2013.  Though homosexual relations have been legal in Russia since 1993, no laws have been put in place to protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and various laws have been enacted to combat the spread of “€œgay propaganda.” A 2013 bill signed into law by President Vladimir Putin has been decried by human rights defenders and the gay community as the most serious attempt by the government to criminalize and stigmatize Russia’s gay community, while Russian officials maintain that the law is needed protect the nation’s youth from gay ideology and the rights of true religious believers, who feel offended by homosexual behavior.
  • Niuta Ginsburg and Lena Mastepanenko, a gay couple, are seen in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 22, 2013.
  • Sabina Hofmann and Olgherta Vkharitonova, a gay couple, embrace in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Kostantin Tyutrin and Nikolay Nedzelskiy, a gay couple, hold hands and pose for a portrait in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Masha Gessen (right) and her partner Darya Oreshkina pose for a portrait with Gessen’s daughter Yolka (center) in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 23, 2013.
  • Katia Andreeva and Maria Krilova, a gay couple, pose for a portrait, Moscow, Russia, Sept. 23, 2013.



In a series of portraits taken at the end of last September, Rome-based photographer Davide Monteleone sought to convey a simple message about gay couples living in Russia.

“The whole idea was about love,” he said, “and the connection between couples. You want to stay together, that’s it. And it doesn’t matter what their religion or sexual orientation is.”

Over the last 10 years, a combination of personal and professional opportunities have repeatedly pulled Monteleone to the country now set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Rather than focusing his lens on the highly anticipated sporting event, however, Monteleone wanted to showcase families facing persecution under a series of controversial anti-gay measures.

One of those families belongs to LGBT activist Masha Gessen, a friend of Monteleone and the author of two books–The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. Gessen and her spouse, Darya Oreshkina, moved with their children to New York last month, out of fear of legislation that could strip LGBT parents of their custody rights. The bill was briefly introduced last fall, then withdrawn from the State Duma for revisions. It could be reintroduced and passed as early as this year.

Other anti-gay measures in Russia include a law banning the promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relationships among minors, a law that classifies “homosexual propaganda” as pornography, and a law that prohibits the adoption of Russian-born children by gay couples or by individuals living in countries that allow gay couples to marry.

Monteleone mostly stuck to photographing friends or acquaintances, as many gay couples were afraid of publicizing their relationships under these restrictions.

“I would never have expected an anti-gay law at this point, when all the world is going in another direction,” said Monteleone, who has no plans of trying to show the photographs in Russia.

“It’s not really that I want to say something to the Russian government,” he said. “They wouldn’t listen anyway.”

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