Just as Russia’s parliament considers passing a controversial law seen as anti-gay, a group of young women have published the first glossy magazine in the country aimed at lesbians.
The quarterly Agens is aimed at women who do not want to go to gay rights rallies but want to read about successful women who are open about their sexuality, said the 24-year-old editor Milena Chernyavskaya.
“A lot of us don’t want to go out on the street with posters, shout into megaphones and fight homophobes,” she wrote in her first editorial, saying she wanted to “create a new image of the lesbian community.”
Confident and articulate, with long curly hair and a tattoo on her wrist, Chernyavskaya met AFP in a Moscow cafe after her day job in public relations at an IT company.
The magazine, whose first issue featured tips on hairstyles and advice on coming out, has 120 pages and a neutral pink-toned cover. The only thing that stands out is its “plus 18″ warning, in line with new legislation in Russia.
The editor said Agens, which translates as powerful in Latin, is Russia’s first glossy magazine aimed at lesbians.
The magazine is aimed at women aged “22-32, working, earning the average or more, educated,” she said.
“It’s active women, quite young, who are interested in what’s happening in the world.”
Chernyavskaya stressed that the magazine was a lifestyle publication, saying it intends to reach women who are put off by gay rights activism, which in Russia involves real risk of violent attacks by homophobes.
“Not everyone wants to go to rallies,” she said.
“Our task is to show young women who are not afraid to be open but at the same time successful in their sphere… They are not afraid to be who they are and we really admire them.”
The magazine is appearing just as parliament considers passing a controversial national law banning “homosexual propaganda” to minors. The ruling is already in place on a regional level in several areas, including Saint Petersburg.
Opposers of the bill complain that its wording is so vague that it could be used to justify any kind of repression against activists.
The bill was passed by parliament in the first of its three readings.
The loosely worded bill, which equates “propaganda” for homosexuality with that for paedophilia, could be used to ban any Gay Pride event, critics say. It sets a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,200) as punishment for flouting the law.
“I think it scares everyone a bit… It seems like few people have been fined for this, but everyone is frightened anyway,” Chernyavskaya said.
Ruling party member Vitaly Milonov, who was the sole author of a regional law passed by the Saint Petersburg parliament, has already expressed his distaste for the magazine, while acknowledging it did not break the law.
Milonov told RIA Novosti news agency that “this magazine does not break the law, but it would be better if they did a magazine about cats.”
Chernyavskaya did not rule out interviewing Milonov himself, especially given that he recently spoke to British actor and gay rights activist Stephen Fry for a documentary.
“I would agree to talk to Milonov, just because I want to understand what kind of person he is.”
The pilot issue has a print run of just 999 copies, available at clubs and via gay websites, but the publisher plans to register it as a quarterly and sell it at newspaper kiosks.
So far everyone is working unpaid, with financing coming from one of Chernyavskaya’s colleagues at the IT firm.
The next issue will include an interview with a lesbian television presenter, Chernyavskaya said, without revealing the woman’s name.
It is hard to get any of the celebrity interviews that normally fill glossy magazines in a country where almost no public figures are openly gay, she admitted.
“There are very talented stars who are suspected of this but never talk about it openly. The community knows about them, but they would never agree to talk openly.”
A recent opinion poll by Levada showed extreme homophobia is still prevalent in Russian society. It found that 34 percent of Russians thought homosexuality was an illness that needed treatment, while 16 percent said gay people should be isolated from society.