What Life Was Like For The Gay Community In Russia Before The 1917 Revolution

Written by Olga Khoroshilova


Gay men had been part of a distinct underground community in Russia long before the revolution and they recognized each other by the "secret language" of fashion. In St Petersburg, some wore red ties, or red shawls, onto which they would sew the back pockets of trousers. Others powdered their faces and wore a lot of mascara. After the revolution, the heavily made-up "silent film star look" became more mainstream and no longer just a fashion for young gay men.


In January 1921 Russian Baltic Fleet sailor Afanasy Shaur organised an extraordinary gay wedding in Petrograd.

The guests included 95 former army officers along with members of the lower ranks of both the army and navy, and one woman, dressed in a man's suit. Shaur pulled out all the stops. He did not think guests would come if it had just been a party. But he gambled - rightly - that a proper wedding with all the Russian traditions, bread and salt, a blessing from the proud parents, and a concert to follow, would be irresistible. At the time Russia's gay community was enjoying a brief window of tolerance.

But the wedding in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) was not all it seemed. Afanasy Shaur was in fact a member of the secret police, and at the end of the festivities the guests were all arrested.

After the October Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks scrapped and rewrote the country's laws. They produced two Criminal Codes - in 1922 and 1926 - and an article prohibiting gay sex was left off both. READ MORE

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