Trav­el­ling gay in the Rus­sian cap­i­tal

Pride Life Magazine - - Contents -

You’ve seen the iconic land­marks: the golden domes of the Cathe­dral of Christ the Saviour (where Pussy Riot was ar­rested), the colour­ful spires of St Basil’s Cathe­dral (in front of which Tilda Swin­ton fa­mously un­furled a rainbow flag), and the Krem­lin. This is Moscow — at once beau­ti­ful and im­pos­ing.

There are many rea­sons why you might wish to visit — per­haps you’re cu­ri­ous about the largest coun­try on earth, and maybe you want to con­nect with this LGBT com­mu­nity, one of the most marginalised in the world—and you should. Moscow is a hand­some place, rich in his­tory, and shaped by pol­i­tics. It’s also home to scores of in­ter­est­ing, thought­ful, cre­ative peo­ple, many of which are LGBT. Go meet them. Here’s what you need to know.

Be­fore you can en­ter Rus­sia, you’ll be re­quired to get a visa, and the ap­pli­ca­tion is thor­ough. Ex­pect to be asked stan­dard ques­tions about your crim­i­nal record and em­ploy­ment, and notso stan­dard ques­tions about your com­mu­nity or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions. You’ll need to book in ad­vance which will al­low you to get a tourist invitation, re­quired for your visa. All of this can take some time. While you’re wait­ing, start get­ting to know some LGBT Mus­covites.

Gay men should try Gay Rus­sia,, Planet Romeo, and Moscow Bears. Dat­ing and hook-up apps like Grindr and Hornet are also use­ful. As al­ways on­line, you’ll need to ex­er­cise cau­tion and common sense, but so­cial net­works are a key way to con­nect. For les­bians, it’s a bit more dif­fi­cult, but search­ing on Face­book and VK (known as “Rus­sian Face­book”) for les­bian clubs and events will get you started.

Once you’re on the ground, your new Rus­sian ac­quain­tances are go­ing to be able to give up-to­date in­for­ma­tion on venues and events, and to help you nav­i­gate the city. Gay clubs of­ten re­lo­cate, and even es­tab­lished clubs are usu­ally un­marked (and even if they weren’t, you’d have to be able to read the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet).

Speak­ing of Cyril­lic, you’ll prob­a­bly want to load your phone with a trans­la­tion app (Google’s works well), and a Moscow Metro app. Use one that shows the sta­tions in Cyril­lic and English, and avail your­self of one of the best trans­porta­tion sys­tems in the world. You’ll need it — Moscow does not have a gay area, and LGBT venues are scat­tered through­out the city — but you’ll find that the jour­ney is as in­ter­est­ing as the des­ti­na­tion. Built in sev­eral phases in the early part of the 20th cen­tury, the sta­tions are them­selves mag­nif­i­cent ex­am­ples of Stal­in­ist ar­chi­tec­ture, and con­tain mo­saic and fres­coes de­pict­ing by­gone eras in Rus­sian his­tory.

Gay and les­bian bars are the most common meet­ing places, and they’re also rel­a­tively safe*. Be pre­pared to pass se­cu­rity on the way in, and don’t bring a cam­era (in some venues pho­tog­ra­phy is for­bid­den). Gay men look­ing for a night­club ex­pe­ri­ence should try Pro­pa­ganda (Metro Ki­tay Gorod) on Sun­day nights or Chance (Metro Polezhayevskaya); Num­bers near Metro Pushkin­skaya is a bear bar. Ustritsa (Oys­ter, in English) is a multi-level les­bian bar lo­cated near Metro Novoslo­bod­skaya, and for late-night/early morn­ing danc­ing, the women move to En­joy Night, near Metro Ul­itsa 1905 Goda.

There’s a long tra­di­tion in Rus­sia of go­ing to the banya (sauna), and there’s no rea­son why LGBT trav­ellers shouldn’t par­take. Any­one not bla­tantly look­ing for sex can choose be­tween sin­gle-sex and mixed spa­ces, but for men seek­ing a gay es­tab­lish­ment, try Mayakovka Spa (Metro Mayakovskaya), Voda (Metro Frun­zen­skaya), or Nashe Spa (Metro Kras­nye Vorota).

If your time is limited, cen­tre your sight­see­ing around Red Square (Metro Ohot­nii Ryad, Teatral­naya, or Ploshad Revo­lut­sii). For a show of mil­i­taris­tic pre­ci­sion watch the chang­ing of the guard at the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier at the north end, and then en­ter through the gates. Red Square, mean­ing beau­ti­ful, is the largest pub­lic square in the world, and it would be easy to spend sev­eral hours there. There are guided tours inside the Krem­lin, or you can ex­plore on your own. The en­trance to Lenin’s Mau­soleum is

“Gay and les­bian bars are the most common meet­ing places, and they’re also rel­a­tively safe, but be pre­pared to pass se­cu­rity on the way in”

on the east side of the Square and ad­mis­sion is free, but you’ll have to leave your cam­eras and elec­tron­ics out­side. When you emerge, you’ll be only yards away from St. Basil’s Cathe­dral, and a shop­ping mall that takes up the western side of the square. If you need help, there’s a tourist in­for­ma­tion counter out­side of the main gates and sev­eral paces to the west.

With a bit more time to your itin­er­ary, you may want to take in some of the finest bal­let and opera in the world at the world-fa­mous Bol­shoi The­atre (Metro Teatral­naya), or spend some time at the Pushkin Fine Arts Mu­seum (Metro Kropot­skin­skaya).

*A note on safety: Rus­sia’s cur­rent anti-gay pro­pa­ganda law has con­trib­uted to hos­til­ity against the LGBT com­mu­nity in Moscow. How­ever, peo­ple are more con­cerned with what goes on in pub­lic than in LGBT spa­ces. Kiss­ing, hold­ing hands, or other kinds of pub­lic dis­plays of af­fec­tion are com­pletely taboo, but once in the club, LGBT peo­ple can so­cialise freely.


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