- Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov hosts a reality TV show that makes contestants guess which of them is gay.
- Whichever “I’m Not Gay” contestant correctly guesses wins 2 million rubles, or $ 29,000 USD.
- The show fits neatly into the Kremlin’s narrative of Russia’s cultural superiority, one expert told Insider.
A Russian reality TV show titled “I’m Not Gay,” hosted by one of the country’s most notorious anti-gay politicians, is drawing scrutiny and abhorrence from western media outlets amid the country’s increasingly authoritarian crackdown on LGBTQ rights.
“I’m Not Gay” pits eight contestants against one another in a series of games centered around masculine stereotypes and homophobic humor, to determine which one of them is gay. The contestant who correctly identifies their gay peer wins two million rubles, or $ 29,000 USD, and the gay contestant wins the money if he makes it through the games undetected.
The show appears to be popular among Russian audiences, and could easily be dismissed as lowbrow entertainment. For instance, one of the challenges involves receiving lap dances from both female and male strippers, while the rest of the contestants watch. Another challenge involves contestants reaching through what appears to be a glory hole, and groping scantily clad men and women.
But one expert told Insider the show is more than just trash TV – it provides a fascinating study of Russia’s attitudes towards both homosexuality and masculinity, and serves a dual purpose as both a cultural weapon against Russia’s western adversaries, and a distraction from the nation’s economic hardships and its invasion of Ukraine.
The first two episodes, which were shared on YouTube before being taken down for “violating YouTube’s policy on harassment and bullying,” racked up over 1 million views and 500,000 views, respectively.
Dan Healey, a professor of modern Russian history at the University of Oxford’s St Antony’s College, said homophobia in Russia is often used as a political device – and “I’m not Gay” fits neatly into the Kremlin’s narrative of Russia’s cultural superiority.
“It’s part of a wider strategy to wage culture wars to distract people from more serious matters,” Healey told Insider in an interview. “But also to confirm something about Russia – that it’s different from Europe and the West, and that it has its own values and belief system.”
It’s becoming increasingly dangerous to be openly gay in Putin’s Russia
Russian media experts previously told Insider that much of Russian propaganda relies on striking a comparison with Western nations – it commonly portrays Russia as morally superior, in contrast with the supposed debauchery and excess of Western nations.
The show “I’m Not Gay” is a politically significant example of that propaganda, Healey said. One of the co-hosts is Vitaly Milonov, a member of the state Duma and a far-right lawmaker known for orchestrating Russia’s infamous 2013 law banning “gay propaganda.”
“My name is Vitaly Milonov and I’m for certain not gay,” Milonov introduces himself in the series’ first episode, which is titled “7 Guys and 1 Gay.” “Every day I will try to help our contestants discover that gay weak link among them. This will be an interesting show.”
The show also comes at a time when Russia’s hostility towards the LGBTQ community appears to be escalating. Just last month, a St. Petersburg court dissolved the country’s most prominent LGBTQ rights organization, known as the Russian LGBT Network.
The Russian government had accused the Russian LGBT Network’s parent organization of illegally carrying out “political activities using foreign property,” as well as promoting “LGBT views,” according to NBC News.
Healey told Insider he expects the Putin regime’s homophobia to escalate over time, and believes it will only become more difficult in the coming months and years for LGBT organizations to operate within the country.
“The future looks very bleak, actually,” he said. “Younger generations coming up will be growing up in a much more hostile environment.”
Healey said the hyper-masculinity that Putin has become known for exuding in his public appearances – aggressive, strong, and physical – has become the standard that Russian men seek to live up to. Those who do not comply may be left left with no choice but to flee the country, he said.
“Russia seems to be addicted to a particularly toxic form of masculinity,” Healey said. “It can be very damaging for men who do not want to conform or can not conform, or can not measure up… Visible nonconformity to a very rigid masculinity standard is dangerous in Russia.”
Translations by Nikita Angarski.