Photography by Alexander Kargaltsev
After news late last week that the progressive retail behemoth Ikea pulled a feature on a British lesbian couple from its Russian edition of its monthly magazine, it caused quite a stir, with some seeing it as a step backward for the company that had the first same-sex couple in a commercial in United States and vowing that they'd no longer shop at the lifestyle brand. Rather than take to social media to rant, a group in New York City decided to "demonstrate" their own freedom of expression by visiting the Brooklyn Ikea and staging a "kiss-in" during a busy shopping weekend in New York City.
"Ikea calls themselves the 'Life Improvement store,' but we decided they have some major room for improvement...[They] should stop insulting their LGBT customers in Russia and around the world, show some backbone, and publish the story in Russian," said Joseph Huff-Hannon, co-editor of the forthcoming book Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories (pictured above kissing his boyfriend Artyom Matusov, who was born in Moscow).
Huff-Hannon organized the self-described "stunt" along with Alexander Kargaltsev, a gay Russian artist and photographer who was granted asylum in the U.S., and Nina Long (pictured below, with glasses), co-founder of Rusa LGBT, who said: "Ikea, be a friend, put the lesbians back in.".
"Next month my girlfriend, my children, and I are moving to New York because of Russia's anti-gay laws, and so we'll be on our way to the Brooklyn Ikea soon," says Masha Gessen, a Russian journalist and co-editor of the Gay Propaganda book. "We'll be doing our shopping in a country where Ikea can still include same-sex couples in its catalog."
A growing number of gay men and women from Russia have been receiving asylum in the States due to the increasing oppression and violence against LGBT people in their country. Oleg Jelezniakov, 39, received asylum in the U.S. in 2007 and commented: "It's 'small' decisions like these that sustain the large scale-ignorance and phobia towards millions of gay men and women worldwide. It's that 'little' act of erasing that invalidates the very existence of many, only because of their sexual orientation. I see this decision as IKEA's quiet endorsement of Russian homophobia."
Watch a video where Nina Long & Alexander Kargaltsev explain their motivations.