The Project

Kvir_izdat is a digital humanities project documenting queer publishing in Russian in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was developed by Philip Gleissner in 2021 and is currently being expanded with the help of a team of student interns at Ohio State.

Why kvir_izdat?

Refusing to explicitly name that which it forbids, the 2013 Russian law commonly known as the Gay Propaganda Law refers to queer or non-heteronormative identities and relations as “non-traditional.”[1] In this relatively brief law, the term comes up five times, driving home the erroneous idea that the LGBTQ+ community is somehow alien to the Russian nation, that its existence is without historical precedent.

Over the last decade, this law has brought significant brought physical and mental harm upon the lives of queer and trans* individuals in the country.[2] Moreover, the current atmosphere of hostility toward queer visibility in the public space have created a condition where Russia’s LGBTQ+ cultural heritage is actively produced as seemingly non-traditional. As the existence of LGBTQ+ people is not only ignored but actively censored and denied, Russian political discourse is stripping the community of its history and cultural record.

Kvir_izdat is envisioned as a project that resists this erasure, by documenting the heritage of queer culture that underwent a remarkable revival during the first two post-Soviet decades. As Soviet censorship had come to an end, a host of queer publications, oftentimes modeled in the tradition of the socialist literary journal (also known as the thick journal, or the socio-political and literary artistic journal) became hubs of queer cultural production and community. As these publications were oftentimes not collected and catalogued consistently, kvir_izdat’s main goal is to aggregate information and create a record in the form of a growing bibliographical archive.

What is kvir_izdat collecting?

The title for this archive is imagined to evoke the traditions of samizdat and tamizdat publishing—modes of unofficial publication and circulation of print during the Soviet Union that was oftentimes subversive in content and relied on its unique modes of reproduction and exchange, bypassing and resisting official Soviet mechanisms of dissemination.[3] Kvir_izdat proposes that in the first two post-Soviet decades a mode of publishing existed that relied on the patterns of editorial selection and community that could be identified as queer in the broadest sense, resisting the pressure of normative or patriarchal understandings of gender performance and relationships. Through the defamiliarizing re-transliteration of the term queer (in Russian квир) as “kvir” and the use of the low dash, which creates a visual empty space yet to be filled with meanings, the title of the project aims to underscore terminological openness and ambiguity. This terminological uncertainty is particularly important in the Russian context, where identity labels familiar from the American context do not carry the same valence, a problem that scholars in East European queer studies at large have emphasized with great urgency.[4]

An example for the challenge of choosing identity labels for print publications can be found in the editorial of the 1999 inaugural issue of the “literary-artistic and radically feminist journal” Ostrov (Island). As its editor explains, “feminist” was chosen over “lesbian,” doubtlessly the journal’s focus in terms of readership, not only because it has greater potential to rally readers and authors but also because the term “lesbian” might scare off readers who might perceive the term as a slur.

For this reason, kvir_izdat documents publications that relate to the non-heteronormative paradigm in the broadest sense, without insisting that any of these publications have conclusive identities. In future years, the goal for this project is to include additional publications from the same time period, sporadic publications from earlier periods (e.g. a record of the publication of the lesbian early-20th-century poet Sophia Parnok), and interviews with participants of past and present queer publishing efforts.

What can I access?

In November 2023, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation declared the International LGBT Social Movement an extremist organization. From the naïve assumption that there is one such movement to the ludicrous accusation of queer people as extremist or even terrorist, this move may appear laughable, but it has severe consequences. Allowing maximum room for judicial interpretation (After all, how would one determine if someone belongs to this “international movement?”), the Russian Supreme Court has paved the way for a new level of prosecution and persecution of LGBTQ+ people on the basis of association.

At such a moment, compiling publicly available lists of people once engaged in gay and lesbian magazines is dangerous. Naturally, Russian authorities could assess publications and gather these records themselves, since the materials documented here are openly accessible, at times even digitally in arbitrary corners the internet. But authorities would still have to actively research the matter, relying on some foundational knowledge of a marginalized community and its culture.

An example of the kvir_izdat bibliographical data, from the file of Mitin zhurnal on Github.

If recent compilations of lists of so-called foreign agents or foreign nationals banned from the Russian Federation are indicative of the current mode of operation, Russian authorities willingly take the easiest path toward building their inventories, based on easily accessible places.

Kvir_izdat will not be a repository that feeds into such efforts of government surveillance and harassment.

For this reason, the complete dataset collected on Github is in a private repository and will only be made accessible to scholars and community members upon request. With questions on how to access the data, please contact Philip Gleissner (

How does kvir_izdat relate to digital humanities?

Kvir_izdat relies on a number of methods that are common to digital humanities, especially the emphasis on building and maintaining data collections, to create and preserve a record of queer history that otherwise might be forgotten or hard to reconstruct in the future. At the same time, it resists the explicit goal of high visibility and broad accessibility commonly at the core of projects funded by large public grants. Instead, the focus is on steady and sustainable growth of a curated data collection in plain text files that will continue to live for decades.

In recent years, the project has benefited from the participation of several undergraduate and graduate students, a small grant from the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at Ohio State, which paid a research intern over the summer of 2023. In April 2024, Gleissner has received, together with Dr. Dima Arzyutov, a grant from the Ohio State College of Arts and Sciences in the amount of $15,000 for their project The Right to Write: Documenting Minoritized Literatures and Cultures in Russia. This grant will support student internships and project-based learning around queer and Indigenous literatures in Russia, in the process of which the dataset of kvir_izdat will be expanded further.



[1] The law’s full title is Russian Federal Law for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values and a detailed discussion and English translation can be found in Roman Utkin, “Illegal Queerness: Russian Culture and Society in the Age of the ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law. Introduction,” The Russian Review 80, no. 1 (2021): 7–16.

[2] For a thorough documentation of the impact of this law, see the work by Alexander Sasha Kondakov, especially his recent book Violent Affections: Queer Sexuality, Techniques of Power, and Law in Russia (London: UCL Press, 2022).

[3] Complex and, at times, competing notions of the core features of this mode of publishing have been developed in the past two decades, e.g. by Ann Komaromi, “Samizdat as Extra-Gutenberg Phenomenon,” Poetics Today 29, no. 4 (2008): 629–67,; Friederike Kind-Kovacs and Jessie Labov, eds., Samizdat, Tamizdat, and Beyond: Transnational Media During and After Socialism (New York: Berghahn Books, 2015); and Yasha Klots, Tamizdat: Contraband Russian Literature in the Cold War Era (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2023); Serguei Oushakine, “The Terrifying Mimicry of Samizdat,” PUBLIC CULTURE 13, no. 2 (2001): 191–214.

[4] Laurie Essig was amongst the first to negotiate this terminological complexity in Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999). A revision and expansion of the problem has been offered by Brian James Baer in Other Russias : Homosexuality and the Crisis of Post-Soviet Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); The problem has been discussed also with a Central European focus in Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska’s edited volume De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives (Burlington: Ashgate, 2011).