Dark Days in Russia :: Michael Lucas on ’Campaign of Hate’
"With all the tricks at their disposal, homosexuals seek out and win the confidence of youngsters," reads a Russian sex manual. "Then they proceed to act. Do not under any circumstances allow them to touch you. Such people should be immediately reported to the administrative organs so that they can be removed from society."
Written in 1964 at the height of the Cold War, these sentiments aren't that different from those found in Western countries at the time. Though more tolerated, LGBTs lived in the margins worldwide.
But in the past-half century the differences in LGBT equality between the West and East couldn't be more stark. In the United States acceptance of same sex marriage has reached majority support; in Russia homosexual behavior is being criminalized.
That occurred last June when Vladimir Putin signed a federal law banning the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors. The law culminates a more than decade long move towards re-criminalizing homosexuality which had been relaxed somewhat in the early 1990s. Gay Pride and film festivals were banned and an alarming trend of homophobic abuse began to get attention from human rights groups.
Putin dismissed criticism last April by saying he wanted "everyone to understand that in Russia there are no infringements on sexual minorities' rights. They're people, just like everyone else, and they enjoy full rights and freedoms."
One person watching this from afar was Michael Lucas, the adult film entrepreneur, writer and social activist. Born and raised in Moscow, he knew first-hand how deeply-rooted anti-gay sentiments are in his homeland. And seeing the homophobic build-up, Lucas became so concerned that he decided to return to Russia to make a film about the alarming trend. Over a month-long period (immediately prior to the passing of the Gay Propaganda Law), Lucas interviewed LGBT Russians about their government-sanctioned marginalization. "Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda," his new documentary, is the first-such record to examine the dispiriting state of affairs in Putin’s Russia.
Available on DVD, Lucas’ film screens at the Boston LGBT Film Festival on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge.
Lucas emigrated from Russia in 1997 and settled in New York City in 1999 where he made Lucas Entertainment into one of the world’s biggest adult male entertainment companies. In recent years he’s become an outspoken writer, activist and (more recently) documentary filmmaker. His first film "Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land" was released in 2012; "Campaign of Hate," his latest, came out last week.
EDGE spoke to Lucas about the film, Russian attitudes towards the LGBT community and what to expect next in his homeland.
First doc to market
EDGE: Congratulations. Yours is the first film about what’s going on in Russia to come out. What prompted you to make it?
Michael Lucas: I am from Russia. I lived there for half of my life -- until the age of 23. It didn’t treat me well as a Jewish man and as a gay man. I suffered a lot. It has never been a good country for gay people. It has never been a good country for anyone who is different, and, of course, I was different from others. I knew that the Kremlin would go with this law. You shouldn’t think that they are joking. You shouldn’t think that they are bluffing. And I think the Russian people, the dark Russian people, would be in favor; and I was right. Eighty-six percent, I believe, are in full support of this law. Those that don’t support this law are either gay or the small fraction of society centered in Moscow. So that is why I decided to do this movie. I wanted to go there. I knew for sure that this law would go through. I was there first and the first documentary produced on this issue is mine.
EDGE: Do you go back to Russia often?
Michael Lucas: I never go. I only went for this movie. It’s a very dark country. It’s very unpleasant to go back. It’s a very cold country. People are very rude. People do not smile. And it is very dangerous to go there if you’re gay. It is very dangerous, particularly if you’re foreign. For me, I knew my way around, but it is not a safe country. I only went to make the film. I don’t want to go there and support them with my American dollar. The world is big enough, why should I go to the country I know very well?
Homophobic publicity whore
EDGE: Did you experience any difficulties while filming there?
Michael Lucas: No. It was just unpleasant. Talking to people like Vitaly Milonov (the St. Petersburg legislator) who instituted this law.
EDGE: He was particularly loathsome with his anti-gay rhetoric. How did you keep your cool speaking to him?
Michael Lucas: I am a cool person. It would be absolutely counterproductive to act on my emotions than not to show the world the unpleasantness of this person. What I was going to show is much more important, so I will have my revenge this way. I did debate him -- not so much in the movie, but near the end of the interview which I will release at some point -- you can’t include everything in the movie. I debated him and he got angry. He got up and left. I don’t think he knew who I am. He’s what you call a publicity whore. He was this unknown parliamentarian -- a nobody -- and with this law became a celebrity. He would talk to anyone that would ask and never tried to find out who this Michael Lucas was.
’It is dangerous’
EDGE: You interviewed many LGBT individuals. Did you have any difficulty in finding subjects to speak before your cameras?
Michael Lucas: Some. But before I went there I got in touch with people that could get people to speak. But that was a challenge because not everybody is out and not everybody that is out wants to be on camera. It is dangerous. If I went to do it now, it would have been even more difficult. Nor would I get so many because the law is in effect.
EDGE: In the film you cite a reference to homosexuality as defined in The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, which reads in part that homosexuality is ’a manifestation of Western decadence,’ and that gay people are perverts. What was it like when you read it the first time?
Michael Lucas: It was very upsetting. It was shocking to find out there were people that feel like me are perverts and should go to jail. I read that when I was a teenager and didn’t know any gay people. All I found out is that gay people are perverts. I came out later. It was the Gorbachev -Yeltsin time when I came out of the closet. I had already found out there were countries in the West that accepted gays. When I was around 12 was when I found out about homosexuality being criminal. And being a teenager is the worst time to find out. It just fueled feeling terrible about feeling different.
EDGE: You interview gay journalist Anton Krasovsky, who came out on Russian television last August (and was promptly fired). He says things were better for the Russian LGBT community in the 1990s. Was that the case?
Michael Lucas: Yes. Could you get beat up in the streets if you held hands? Yes. But were you considered sick? No. In places like Moscow and St. Petersburg there was the beginnings of a gay political movement, but I never thought it would get anywhere.
EDGE: Do you see any parallels to what happened to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s and what is happening in Russia towards LGBTs today?
Michael Lucas: The biggest parallel is that the world didn’t do anything. The Jews were divided, just like the gays in my movie are very divided. Some Jews took it seriously because they knew the history and realized what would happen and some decided to stay, and those who stayed were exterminated. I don’t think this will lead to extermination at the government level, but we know very well the biggest danger is the Russian mob. The Russian mob that is unemployed and has gotten a signal from the Kremlin: here’s the danger to our kids. There are gay-bashings that you can see on YouTube and in my movie. They pour urine on the heads of gay people. They make them pose with dildos and give their name on camera as to where they work and study. We don’t know how many people are killed in Russia. A lot of people are killed in Russia on a daily basis and are not reported as hate crimes.
EDGE: Is the United States doing enough?
Michael Lucas: No, no. We don’t do enough with what’s going on in the Ukraine. And we don’t do enough about gays. The United States and Europe have done nothing about human rights violations of gays in Russia. Zero.
Can attitudes be changed?
EDGE: There’s been a huge change in attitudes towards LGBTs in the United States, which also has a long history of homophobic attitudes. Are similar changes possible in Russia?
Michael Lucas: Everything is possible under the sun. I just don’t think I know how it is possible. It’s getting worse. The Kremlin found a new enemy. They were the Jews before, but the Jews left because they’re welcome in Israel at any day and time. It is their homeland. Gays do not have a homeland that will accept them at any day and time. They cannot leave Russia. The Kremlin found a new enemy. Attack the Jews, they will leave, but they could attack the gays with this gay propaganda law. The Russian people are now thinking that homosexuals are pedophiles -- a danger towards children. A danger to the family.
So what we have now is hate --ate towards gays. In the 1990s, there wasn’t a hate towards gays. It just never was a topic. Gay people were kind-of a club; now it is pure hate. This law will never be removed from the books. Putin and the Kremlin are paranoid towards the West and think gays are Western agents. This law is popular. Putin is looked up in Russia as a man that says no to Obama, no to Europe, no to the West. And most importantly, this is something I have heard all my life: this country hates anything different.
I agree with Reagan, it (Russia) is an evil empire. I am well aware that he said that because it was a communist country -- godless country. I am just saying this country is evil. It is an evil empire. Look at what they are doing now to the Ukraine. They are evil for many reasons they hate anything different. Reagan didn’t care about the gays in Russia. His agenda was anti-communist and he very successfully destroyed the Soviet Union -- he made them broke. I understand that. I am just saying that he was right to say they were evil. I am just repeating it.
EDGE: Do you think Putin believes these things?
Michael Lucas: The Kremlin did not become homophobic overnight. That was a very thought-through campaign to take attention away from some messy domestic problems. Does Putin believe it? Personally, I think he doesn’t give a shit; but that’s irrelevant.
EDGE: In the past year there has been a growing alliance between conservative groups in the United States and those Russians that have spearheaded this anti-gay edict. What do you think of this trend?
Michael Lucas: I don’t know much about that. Are you saying the American right is going to Russia to promote an anti-gay agenda? But it is such a small number of people, so who cares? They have support. Vitaly Milonov told me in the break that Evangelicals in America would be in trouble because America is a gay country there would be persecution of Evangelicals because they don’t like gay people. He said he was getting letters of support from Mormons and that by mentioning that, he’d be getting them in trouble. I told him that he just doesn’t understand, because America has freedom of speech. We will not be persecuting Evangelicals that don’t like gay people.
I can tell you that you will not see any stories in the Russian press about Evangelical support of Russia in America. What is reported in the press is that America is pushing its lifestyle on Russia. Putin wants people to think that this is a Western influence that Russia should be firmly against. So any American support of Putin’s views on gays would be ignored because the whole idea is that Putin’s strength comes from being against America and the West. Any support of his views in America would be ignored. Our enemy is our enemy. There is nothing good about our enemy.
EDGE: With anti-gay sentiments growing in Africa, India and the Middle East, is homophobia a growing problem worldwide?
Michael Lucas: It’s possible. Hilary Clinton said that we wouldn’t tolerate homophobia worldwide a few years ago, but nothing changed. Russia will never change -- people are brainwashed from a very early age. Europe will change because it has chosen a Western way of thinking. So if the Ukraine or any other Russian republics adapt Western thinking, things will change. I think the fight will become worldwide after the fight for equality is done in America. Then the attention can be switched towards equality all over the world, at least I hope so. But whether it will be a success or not, I don’t know. If we push our views on Islamic countries, they will push back and make gays enemies. As soon as the West pushes its principles and lifestyles on other countries, homosexuals become the enemy.
Being taken seriously
EDGE: Do you enjoy documentary filmmaking?
Michael Lucas: No. There’s nothing to enjoy. Did you see what I was dealing with? I honestly didn’t enjoy the process. I just felt I had to. It was something that I felt I had to do. I know that I will never get even a quarter of the money back. It cost $100,000 from making the trip to the final edit. And spending a month in Russia wasn’t pleasant. But I don’t pretend to be a documentary filmmaker. This is not my goal. I don’t see myself producing any other ones.
EDGE: Has your celebrity as an adult male film star and entrepreneur helped or hindered you being taken seriously for this film?
Michael Lucas: If I was not, as you call me, a celebrity, I would not have been able to produce this documentary. One reason I was able to make it is that gay people know me in Russia. I am known as one of the most famous gay Russians. I am there with Tchaikovsky. (laughs). My name is a draw. People are taking me seriously because they know I am a professional who does projects well. So people wanted to be a part of my project because they know I will make a good product. If I had been a nobody -- if I didn’t have a platform, and my platform is the adult platform -- that is how I became known; and I am using my platform to write what I want. To speak what I want. I am coming back now from Boston where I spoke at two universities. I do this all the time. I get invited to campuses and I am being paid. If I did not have this platform, I won’t be interviewed. I won’t be invited to speak. Say I was a lawyer or a doctor, would I have gone to Russia and pull together this documentary? And who will know about it? My celebrity, as you call it, is a major plus.
EDGE: Still I don’t see you on Morning Joe or any cable news outlets where I often watch filmmakers talking about their films. Does your celebrity hinder you getting on more mainstream media outlets?
Michael Lucas: Yes, there are limits. I will not be invited to be in a Hollywood movie. I would not be able to become a politician because I do porn. So there are certain things that limit me. So I don’t think I’ll be invited on morning shows, but we will see. But this a project of love. I spent this money on the film only in order to tell people what I believe.
"Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda" screens as part of the Boston LGBT Film Festival on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 8 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. Tickets are priced at $12 and are available at: this web link.
"Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda" is released by Lucas Documentaries and Breaking Glass Pictures. It was released on DVD on April 1, 2014. For more on the film visit the Breaking Glass Pictures website.
Click this link to view the film’s trailer: