The Iron Closet

Presented by Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Curated by Evey Wilson

Featuring Misha Friedman

Being gay in Russia is lonely and dangerous. Homophobic rhetoric is encouraged by the state. Violence and discrimination are tolerated. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia more than 20 years ago, it remained classified as a mental disorder until 1999. Recently, homophobia has become more virulent.

According to a recent official poll, 80% of respondents opposed gay marriage. 41% said they support discrimination based on sexual orientation. 20% consider gay people dangerous and said they should be “isolated from society.” Only 3% said LGBT people should be able to raise children.

An amendment to Russia’s Child Protection law passed in June 2013 criminalizes what it calls “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.” Its ambiguity and selective use effectively make it illegal for any kind of gay event to take place or to even mention acceptance of homosexuality in public.

With a significant increase in hate crimes, hundreds of LGBT Russians are asking for asylum in the United States.

Photographer Misha Friedman documents how members of the LGBT community live under these conditions. They are prisoners in their own homes, hiding their identities, afraid to live a full life while looking for hope elsewhere.

Misha Friedman was born in Moldova in 1977, and graduated with degrees from Binghamton University and London School of Economics, where he studied economics and international relations. He worked in corporate finance and later in humanitarian medical aid while teaching himself photography. Friedman’s analytical approach to storytelling involves trying to look beyond the facts, searching for causes, and asking complex and difficult questions. Sometimes he succeeds.

Friedman regularly collaborates with leading international media and non-profit organizations, including the New Yorker, Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Amnesty International, and Doctors Without Borders. His widely-exhibited work has received numerous industry awards, including multiple grants from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Friedman lives in New York City.


The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is an innovative award-winning non-profit journalism organization dedicated to supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake. The Center supports journalists to cover under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences, including education programs to reach students of all ages.

When Joseph Pulitzer III became editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a half century ago, he said, “Not only will we report the day’s news, but we will illuminate dark places and, with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troubled times.” In keeping with its deep ties to the Pulitzer family’s legacy of journalistic independence, integrity, and courage, that same mission and deep sense of responsibility drives the Pulitzer Center, in times just as troubled.

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