Over the last couple of years, Michael Lucas, best known as the east coast king of gay porn (but also an occasional commentary contributor to Advocate.com and Out.com) took an especially timely series of trips to Russia, his home country.
In advance of the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Lucas interviewed and filmed LGBT activists and journalists, commentators and regular Russian citizens, on their experiences living in a country that actively harasses and criminalizes the lives of gays and lesbians. The interview were for a documentary, now out, called Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda, directed by Lucas and Scott Stern.
The interviews are timely given the world’s focus on Russia’s systematic attacks on queer people. The country has anti– “gay propaganda” laws, criminalizing anything positive said about LGBTs. Gays and lesbians are prevented from adopting children, and legislation threatened to have children of gay parents forcibly removed from their parents’ custody. Rather than dispel the lies that pedophilia is the same thing as homosexuality, the dominant political strain of thought is to encourage the conflation, and the antigay politicians gain currency with the uneducated masses for decrying so-called gay child-rapists. Young queer people are tortured on camera and the footage is distributed online; the thuggish perpetrators act with impugnity.
He interviews Anton Krasovsky, the Russian journalist who was fired after coming out on television. He interviews lesbian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko who describes a two-hour conversation with an antigay bigot who threatened violence, and in which she made some inroads. When Lucas asserts that she cannot possibly have conversations with each and every antigay person for two hours, she replies tirelessly: “No I can, actually, and I do it.” He also speaks with Masha Gesen, the writer who, with her wife and children, left Moscow under threat of the take-away-your-kids legislation.
Perhaps Lucas’s most shocking interview is with Vitaly Milonov, the politician who introduced the antigay law. He told Lucas that homosexuality is a disease. Given Lucas’s work in gay porn, their very meeting is a puzzle, and Milonov’s insistence that gays are a virus that targets morality, is the personification of rejection of gays and lesbians' dignity and humanity.
These are the kinds of attitudes that Russian LGBT activists are attempting to confront head-on, like in this planned protest in 13 cities this Saturday, in defiance of state sanctioned oppression.
This is not Lucas’s first documentary. Undressing Israel was undoubtedly sunnier than Campaign of Hate. That documentary showcased Israel as an oasis of LGBT rights in the Middle East, and it was a love letter to a nation Lucas, who is Jewish, holds dear. Conversely Campaign of Hate isn’t exactly a break-up letter. Lucas has already renounced his Russian citizenship. This film isn’t Lucas walking away from Russia, but a clear-eyed, unsentimental look at a country that demonize LGBTs in a concerted, violent, and dangerous way for political gain.