Article written by Maya Vukovska

Russia is among those embittered European countries that have long held a negative attitude regarding homosexuality. Although homosexuality was removed from the Russian list of mental illnesses in 1999, living as an openly gay person in today’s Russia is still a challenge that can get you in a big, BIG trouble. Yet, the state-sponsored homophobia cannot stop the young queer artists from expressing themselves through their art. They are not only extreme risk-takers but also frontlines in the fight for LGBTQ rights.

Andrei Petrov, 24, Moscow
He is the first Russian male beauty blogger with 1.2 million Instagram followers. Тhe video for his debut rapper track “Pidor” (“Faggot”) has nearly 5 million views on YouTube. In January 2020, Petrov, whose pseudonym is Gliese Nana, interviewed on his channel the young blogger Volodya XXL, who had previously expressed a desire to shoot homosexuals. Their discussion became a viral sensation. Two months later, Petrov was attacked and beaten in Moscow. The reason behind the attack was his appearance.

Augustine, 23, Norilsk
The dull Siberian industrial city of Norilsk has produced one of the most unique and talented queer artists of Russia. Augustine felt different since she was a little child and later came out as non-binary. Her debut single “Papa Sever” (“Father North”) is a poetic tribute to her hometown. In her singing and performance, one can sense the influence of artists like Kate Bush and Prince, and the video for the single is a referral to the glaring world of the 1980s pop music.

Shortparis, band, Saint Petersburg
Nikolay, Danila, Pavel, and the two Alexanders of the avant-pop, art-punk band Shortparis rely very much on theatrics to express the surreality of their lives as queer musicians in a severely homophobic country. The five guys are no strangers to the ideas of anarchism and disarray, and they are not shy about tackling such topics, like they do in their 2018 video for the song “Страшно” (“Scary”). When asked by Clash whether violence is the essential ingredient of the band’s recipe, the frontman Nikolay says, “Violence towards the audience is our way fo waking them up and encouraging them to go beyond the passive perception and consumer attitude to art.”

Sado Opera, band, Berlin
Originally from Saint Petersburg, this queer Russian party band formed in 2009 (just before the anti-gay propaganda law was passed) is currently based in Berlin. Sado Opera is formed by four eccentric people who prefer to keep their identities a mystery behind layers of makeup: Colonel, sunglassed blonde Katya, drummer Icky, and bassist Licky. The band sings mostly in English, and their style can be described as an amalgam of electro, funk, house, and disco. Honestly, have you seen anything like “Red”! It’s vintage, it’s synth, it’s absolutely fab. One of the reasons why the band moved to Berlin was that, as Colonel puts in in an interview for BBC, “Russia is like a country of islands of freedom, but only a little island in an ocean of fear and hate.”

Anger, dissatisfaction with the status quo, and protest against homophobia are on the LGBTQ agenda in modern-day Russia. One of the most extreme examples of battling homophobia is Angel Ulyanov’s “Давай замутим” (“Let’s Start Something”), where, pretty much unexpectedly, violence is replaced with voguing. The openly gay artist says that he’s is interested in looking at masculinity from a different angle and that despite the homophobic climate he is optimistic about the future of Russian queer culture. As he sees it, “people who were born in the 2000s are more perceptive to new ideas and various sexualities as opposed to older generations.”

Kristian Kostov, 21, Moscow
This beautiful performer with androgynous appearance is actually half Bulgarian and half Russian. When he was only 17, he represented Bulgaria in the prestigious Eurovision Song Contest 2017 with the song “Beautiful Mess,” finishing in second place. Аfter this success, the boy has gained millions of fans not only in Russia and Bulgaria, but also in China (where he participated in a popular reality show), and over the world, really. Kristian’s sexuality still remains mystery, and he is not willing to reveal any details about his personal life. Yet, rumours have been going around about him dating a female Russian figure skater. He, however, neither admits, nor denies them. Currently, Kostov is a student at the Berkley University, but is still very active in the social media. His Instagram profile is considered a true book of art.