Russian LGBTQ periodical press emerged in 1990* on the wave of the publishing boom brought about by glasnost. Its numbers grew with the newfound freedom of the press resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union the following year. Its creators were mobilized by the AIDS epidemic and the campaign to repeal Article 121.1 of the Soviet penal code that had criminalized gay male sexual practices. Many of these early publications perished in the financial crisis of 1998, but a new generation of glossier publications appeared in the early 2000s. These in turn gave way to the online format and for the most part vanished even before Article 6.21 of the Russian code of administrative offenses, banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors", was adopted in 2013.
Russian LGBTQ periodical press varied in purpose, content, style, production values, and circulation. It ranged from weekly newspapers and glossy entertainment magazines to radical newsletters and self-published literary journals. Many early publications combined elements of all categories, offering a curious mix of human rights news, sexual health information, publitsistika**, fiction, poetry, and art, alongside erotic images and personal ads.
Most early publications were small operations, produced by a few enthusiasts, sometimes by just one person. Most appeared rather irregularly, reached very small audiences, and had relatively short life-spans. Some titles served as mouthpieces for nascent LGBTQ organizations, though the extent to which these were functional organizations, as opposed to institutional platforms for a few prominent personalities, is debatable. Advertised print runs should also be taken with a degree of skepticism.
Not surprisingly, most publications were produced by cisgender gay men for a cisgender gay male audience. Few, apart from a couple of journals aimed specifically at lesbians, dealt with topics of interest to women, and few included women as contributors. Transgender or non-binary representation was all but absent.
While the louder voices speaking through these publications may not always be representative, the publications remain essential primary sources that are still awaiting their researchers. They constitute a rare record of public LGBTQ lives from the period, a reflection of evolving identities, and a chronicle of notable personalities, events and places in Russian LGBTQ history.
Because of their marginal status, small print runs, limited distribution networks, and perhaps also because of the presence of erotic imagery, few American libraries have them in their collections. Furthermore, the ones that are held tend to be from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, with few, if any, other cities or regions represented. This is a major omission given how LGBTQ lives in the provinces differed from those in the capital cities.
Below are several exemplars of this publishing culture, focusing on titles held at UNC.
* A few samizdat publications did tackle the topic of homosexuality earlier. See, for example, Mamonova (1984).
** Publitsistika (публицистика) is a hard-to-translate term whose meaning ranges from opinion journalism to advocacy journalism, to any kind of non-fiction writing on social and political issues of the day.
Image: cover of a 2013 "gay issue" of the now defunct, but at the time very popular Moscow entertainment/lifestyle magazine Afisha in response to the adoption of the "Gay Propaganda" law. Such solidarity from a major publication seems highly unlikely in the present environment. Image source: web.archive.org/web/20130228050511/http://www.afisha.ru/magazine/afisha_msk/archive/339/