Gay love in the time of Putin

American journalist Joseph Huff-Hannon tells Haaretz why the collection of true love stories he co-edited with Masha Gessen is a good way to fight homophobia in Russia.

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.

In the book, dozens of gays and lesbians have their say; some live in Russia and some have emigrated. Even though the work documents the life of a persecuted minority, it includes amusing and hopeful stories about impossible loves and starting families despite everything.

“When the ‘gay propaganda’ law in Russia made headlines in the summer, it seemed clear that the government’s intention was to get rid of any representation of gays in the media, on television, in literature – basically any visibility in the popular culture. They wanted to make LGBT people disappear from the public eye,” says Huff-Hannon.

“At the time I was in contact with Russian immigrants here in New York who were organizing demonstrations and protests, and I started to think about creative ways to support the movement. I was also moved by some of the stories people shared with me, like how they met their partner in Russia, or how they fell in love, and I thought that this might make for a nice focus – instead of overly focusing on discrimination and the anti-gay laws in the abstract, to collect these very intimate, romantic and often very funny love stories.”

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