LGBT visibility in Russia is rare, let alone entire festivals dedicated to the community. Here’s how the brave Manny de Guerre and Gulya Sultanova managed to make it happen.

The LGBT community in Russia has few spaces to come together, especially in wake of the “gay propaganda” ban that became a part of federal law in 2013. It prohibits anything that could be considered promoting homosexuality to minors. But because “propaganda” isn’t a legal term, any interaction with a child or teen could be construed as such. The threats to the LGBT community have also become more serious over time.


The Bok o Bok (Side by Side) Festival is a queer film festival that was founded by de Guerre and Sultanova, and has been running for over eight years, and it was believed that last year’s controversy could have put an end to it. Vitaly Milonov, a local MP and the author of the ridiculous law crashed the festival shouting “underage children could be inside”.


This year, a number of spaces cancelled on the festival, most of them fearful of the very real threat of persecution. This year, a club accepted them at the last minute, and despite the high security and tense situation, the festival vibe was quite serene. The films too, were brilliant, and journalist and member of the Bok o Bok jury also said,“I hope that the spotlights, projectors and screens of the festival shine a light of enlightenment and kindness.Today we all have an opportunity to speak out and we must […] It’s not just the educated and the minorities who need respect, but also those who are ignorant and misled.”


Considering the terrible incidents of violence and undue hatred the community faces in Russia, we applaud the bravery and solidarity of every person who attended and supported the festival. Bok o Bok’s events and initiatives are also admirable, ranging from films and public discussions to educating local journalists on how to handle gay and transgender issues in a non-offensive way and without inadvertently promoting hate.