The pilot issue of a glossy magazine for lesbians has gone on sale in Russia this month, in the face of escalating anti-gay sentiment and a new nationwide law against “homosexual propaganda” expected soon.
Agens, an independent quarterly describes itself as “A Magazine About Women for Women” on its first photo collage cover, as well as carrying an age-eighteen plus rating. The magazine (whose title can be translated from Latin as “driving force”) has a print-run of just 999 copies this month. It claims it is the only printed glossy publication for lesbians in Russia, where social attitudes regarding homosexuality remain far more conservative than in western Europe and are frequently manifest in outright hostility.
Agens’ editor-in-chief Milena Chernyavskaya told RIA Novosti the publication aims to be a lifestyle magazine which will help Russian lesbians.
“The LGBT community has to deal with an information blackout,” Chernyavskaya said. “Russian gay men and lesbians don’t know each other and think that they cannot be happy, because everyone around abuses them,” she added.
Chernyavskaya, a graduate of Moscow State University’s journalism department and a film producer, compiled the pilot edition together with art director Anna Roslyakova and several contributors.
Earlier this year, the State Duma passed in its first reading a bill which would introduce steep fines for promoting homosexuality to minors. Critics of the proposed law (containing similar strictures to legislation which has been already been enacted in St. Petersburg and several other cities) say it could be broadly interpreted to discriminate against the gay community in Russia.
Duma lawmakers now have until May 25 to make changes to the bill before it moves on to its second reading.
Agens magazine’s editors say they hope the magazine will not fuel the conflict between the gay community and the authorities, but promote dialogue instead.
“We are aiming at a dialogue both with the readers and the authorities,” Chernyavskaya said. “If the deputies are unhappy with the magazine, I would like to talk to each of them face to face.”
The first 120-page issue has stories about film-making, studies abroad, private business initiatives and a photo session with men’s clothes that fit women, along with shared stories about “coming out” experiences at work.
The magazine’s only investor, Chernyavskaya said, is her best friend Maks Karpukhin, who works in the IT sector.
“Certainly, we hope to become a profitable publication eventually,” Chernyavskaya said in an interview. Its journalists currently have to work on the magazine part-time, when not busy with their main jobs.
The magazine is the third attempt to launch a lesbian-oriented publication in Russia, after VolgaVolga (2004) and almanac Pinx (2006-2011), according to the Gay.ru website.
Agens might even end up as the only glossy magazine targeting LGBT readers at all. Russia’s only glossy magazine for gay men, Kvir (a Russian transliteration from “queer”), a monthly launched back in 2003, has cut its publication to online-only starting this year.
Olgerta Kharitonova, a feminist behind the Ostrov (or Island in English), a DIY-online magazine for feminists and lesbians, praised Agens’ founders as brave people given the predominantly anti-gay climate in Russia.
“If a glossy lesbian magazine survives on Russian soil, it will be the best present for the LGBT community in 2013,” said Kharitonova, who has been publishing Ostrov for more than a decade. “If Agens manages to reflect lesbian life in the format of a glossy magazine without attracting the ire of the outraged Orthodox community, then we can only wish them luck and keep our fingers crossed,” she added.
Vitaly Milonov, an anti-gay crusader and St. Petersburg’s legislature lawmaker, condemned the magazine but conceded there is no law banning its publication.
“Such a magazine can be published, of course, but we should watch that this filth does not fall into the hands of minors,” Milonov said by telephone. He added he “would be happier if someone started a magazine about cats,” which he suggested would have a bigger audience.
So far, Agens is only on sale at four places popular with gays in Moscow (7freedays, Enjoy Night Club, Indigo store and Milk beauty studio) and online at Shop.Gay.Ru for $9.97 per copy.