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‘If you can't save the world, save the world inside you’ Photographer Emmie America’s project in support of the Russian LGBTQ+ community

Source: Meduza

On November 30, the Russian Supreme Court banned the “international LGBT movement.” That decision surpasses even 19th-century Russian legislation in terms of cruelty against queer people. Helping those who cannot leave the country is not easy. Meduza and photographer Emmie America wanted to express our support for them with a new project centered around queer people who moved from Russia to the United States after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They’re well aware of the dangerous reality their community faces in Russia. We are publishing the story with comments from Emmie America and those who took part in the project.

Emmie America, photographer and producer

Safety was the main thing I lacked in Moscow. I lived in a fragile bubble: I went to queer parties, wore political stickers proudly instead of a top to events, and could even kiss a girl in public. And then my friends’ wedding, filmed by a random passerby, was on the news, and they started getting threatening texts from members of the Male State. That’s when the bubble burst. I remember that by 2021 (the last time I was in Russia), I was always on guard.

I didn't think I was leaving Russia forever. I left for work and the war started. It became clear that I would never go back. My home disappeared, even the illusion of safety disappeared. Now my home is in the arms of my girlfriend. It’s only with her I am truly calm, safe. 

I don't really allow myself to dig into memories of Russia, but I often think about those who are still there. For example, about the queer children who will grow up choosing between love and “safety.”

I understand very well that an art project can’t influence the law (at least in Russia). But I also realize that art and culture are not laws: they are something left up to us. These photos are so that every queer person can know for sure: they are not alone. There are lots of us, we exist — here we are.

To me, hugs are the ultimate symbol of support. I really hope you feel a little bit of that.

Angel and Gleb

I was born in the Irkutsk region and spent half my life in a small town in the middle of the taiga. My husband is from Moscow. Soon it will be a year since we moved to New York, and ten years that we’ve been together.

We want to express our support for the entire LGBTQ+ community. Even at a distance, we feel your worries, fears, and pain. It's not my place to advise everyone to leave. But remember there’s always a way out, don’t give up.

We would like to hug each of you. Take care of yourselves and don't let fear overtake you. Protect yourself, your loved ones, your friends, and your love from the propaganda of hate. Do not be afraid to love! Love is stronger than fear.

Alexander and Albert

We’ve been together for eight years now. We lived in Samara for most of our lives. I worked as a high-end plumber, while Albert worked in a construction company that he was forced out of [after they learned about his sexual orientation]. We had a lot of heartache in the Russian Federation.

We crossed the border between Mexico and the U.S. on July 21, 2023, through the CBP One program. On July 30, we got married in Las Vegas. Now we live in New York. Sometimes, we’re overcome by “ingrained” inhibitions when we walk down the street hand in hand. We still can't believe we can breathe freely and not fear for our lives. 

We didn't think twice about taking part in the shoot. Thank you to everyone who cares about the queer community in Russia.

Sergei and Sergei

We lived in Moscow. We also had our own business there, which we gave away literally for nothing when we realized that the war would not end [in the near future, at least] and that mobilization was inevitable. 

We’ve been in the U.S. for exactly one year. I’ve been communicating with people from Russia for the entire year, telling them how to get to America, giving them advice and support. It’s important for me to share my experience. To those who are in Russia now, I want to say that it’s not shameful to leave, it’s not a “betrayal of the motherland.” Unfortunately, patriotism has now been made into an instrument of death. I don’t know who said it, but I always keep the phrase in my head: “If you can’t save the world, save the world inside you.”

Nastya and Diana

We’ve known each other for seven years, been together for three years, and married for almost a year. We moved to the U.S. from Irkutsk about a year ago. It's been a long journey. 

To all members of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia, we’d like to wish you patience. The struggle is beautiful and noble, but please take care of yourselves, your life, and your freedom. Continue to love and unite. This is an important moment to reach out to those in need. And we believe that one day, by working together, we can build a society where every love is respected and valued, where there’s no place for inhumane laws. Love will always win.

Andrey and Sasha

We lived in Moscow and never imagined life in another city. But it will soon be a year since we left. 

Putin and his gang have never stopped strangling the community year after year. This is far from over. The mass atrocities will begin when the “witch hunters” start building careers in which the lives of queer people will be a checkmark for a star on their epaulets. It’s naive to hope that the grip will loosen.

We wish all those left behind strength. We can imagine how hard it is financially for those from rural areas, but you need to mourn the country and do what you can to escape. The greatest value in life is life itself.

Vlad and Julian

I was born in Saratov, Julian was born in Hawaii, and we met in New York. I left Russia in September 2022. During that time, my life changed dramatically. For the first time, I felt what it’s like to fully accept love, without judgment. It helps me feel open and confident.  

The LGBTQ+ community in Russia is going through terrible turmoil. This kind of infringement on their rights is unacceptable in today's world. I believe in love. 

Max and Vanya

We are an LGBTQ+ family from St. Petersburg. We left Russia in the fall of 2022 (“partial mobilization” was the final straw) and came to the U.S. in the winter of 2023. We have no regrets. Local society is tolerant of LGBTQ+ people, everyone is welcome here regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

We realize that conditions for LGBTQ+ people in Russia are unbearable right now. We want you to know you’re not alone. You deserve love, respect, and equality. Each of you is unique and beautiful. We believe in a future in which everyone will live the life they want. Remember that there are always people to support you.

What does the ban mean?

Russia has banned the so-called ‘international LGBT movement’ What does this mean for queer people and activists living there?

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Photographer and producer Emmie America / Saint Luke Artists

Cinematographer Andrey Zaritskiy

Lighting Designer Josh Mathews

Editor Caroline Knight

Colorist Abdullah Ghazal

Production Coordinator Katya Varzar

Production Assistant Maya Shkolnik

Translator Ned Garvey

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