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Risking courageously. Alexey Andrievskiy, 26, and Yaroslav Blindul, 33 (John Lehmann/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Risking courageously. Alexey Andrievskiy, 26, and Yaroslav Blindul, 33 (John Lehmann/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

What it’s like to be LGBT in Russia: photographs by John Lehmann Add to ...

They met on a Tuesday night in a basement office far from the centre of this city in middle Russia – a dozen gay, lesbian and transgendered citizens of Yekaterinburg, gathering to share stories and offer each other support.

Being different was always hard in Russia, a country that was cut off from social developments in the West while it was hidden behind the Iron Curtain. Homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union, and the taboo remained even after the law disappeared in 1993.

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Life has gotten even harder for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Russians since President Vladimir Putin was returned to the Kremlin in 2012. Facing economic weakness and street protests against his extended rule, Mr. Putin has tacked to the conservative right, forming a new alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The church and the Kremlin say the country has been made weak by Western ideas – such as gay rights – that must now be combatted in the name of restoring traditional Russian values. Mr. Putin last year signed a law banning “propaganda” that portrays gay or lesbian relationships as normal. More repressive anti-gay laws are under debate in the Russian parliament.

When photographer John Lehmann and I asked the Tuesday night support group what life for them is like in Mr. Putin’s Russia, the stories of fear, discrimination and even violence come spilling out. They had more to say than we could possibly put into a newspaper article.

So we asked them to explain for themselves – in a single word – what it’s like to be LGBT in the Russia of 2014. Here are the words they chose.

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