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Russia: drag queens still on stage despite the tightening noose

The Russian authorities are indeed preparing to toughen a law on "gay propaganda" which could make these representations illegal, increasing the pressure on an LGBT community that has been marginalized for years in Russia.

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Russia: drag queens still on stage despite the tightening noose

The Russian authorities are indeed preparing to toughen a law on "gay propaganda" which could make these representations illegal, increasing the pressure on an LGBT community that has been marginalized for years in Russia.

But while waiting for the storm, the atmosphere is surprisingly festive in this Moscow bar, and the energetic organizer of this show, Margot Mae Hunt, in a white dress and large feathers in her blonde wig, has a lot to do with it.

"It's so great! We're having fun! The atmosphere is super warm," says Margot to the performers gathered around her, hands on hers. “Today, my darlings, let’s take advantage!” she tells them.

If the young woman is so keen to live in the present moment, it is because this show called "Draglesque Brunch", associating burlesque artists and drag queens, could soon be banned.

The lower house of the Russian Parliament, the Duma, must soon vote on second reading of amendments considerably expanding a decried law dating from 2013 and aimed at "protecting" children against LGBT "propaganda".

This initiative comes at a time when President Vladimir Putin has stiffened up in defense of what he describes as "traditional" values, in the midst of a conservative turn accompanying his military attack in Ukraine.

The changes seek to also ban 'propaganda' aimed at adults, which LGBT rights advocates fear could cover a wide range of areas, from books and movies to social media posts and shows. like the "Draglesque Brunch".

- Ideological war -

"The impact that this law could have is not clear at the moment (...) We try not to think about it", says one of the drag queens of the group, Skinny Jenny, holding a vaporizer of his white-gloved hand.

Skinny Jenny, dressed in a floral dress, an elegant white scarf and pearls, believes that she and her colleagues have nothing to be ashamed of.

"All we do is stage the art of cross-dressing, which has existed for years and years. Not only abroad, but also in Russia," the artist told AFP. 26 years old.

"What we need right now is a dose of life, beauty, happiness, love," says organizer Margot Mae Hunt. "That's exactly the point of burlesque."

But it is not easy to remain optimistic, while LGBT people are in the crosshairs of the authorities, who have qualified several associations and activists as "foreign agents", an infamous status.

The situation worsened further after the launch of the offensive against Ukraine in February, with authorities presenting the tougher law on LGBTQ "propaganda" as an act of defense in an ideological war against Westerners.

"The military operation takes place not only on the battlefield, but also in people's minds," said pro-Putin MP Alexander Khinchtein, one of the authors of the text.

- "Continue clandestinely" -

Under the latest proposed amendments, those found guilty of LGBT "propaganda" will face heavy fines and up to two years in prison.

This new threat hangs over the minds of the few dozen bar patrons who are impatiently awaiting the drag queens' appearance on stage, heralded by Diana Ross' hit "I'm Coming Out".

In the public, Marie, 37, appreciates "the warm and comfortable atmosphere, the good humor and the humor".

But she also thinks of the new law, which "brings fear, confusion and outrage". "It feels like every show could be the last," she told AFP.

Suddenly, Skinny Jenny appears on stage and launches into a "lip-sync" number, which consists of pretending to sing. Another drag queen, Kamilla Crazy-White, succeeds her, perched on impressive wedge heels.

"Is that really the most pressing problem in Russia?" asks Margot Mae Hunt, looking at the laughing audience.

"I really want to hope for the best, but we are preparing for the worst," she continues. If her shows are banned, she has already planned everything: "We will organize them clandestinely and we will enter even more into the legend!"

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