Pavel Petel is an openly gay model, activist, and gender-bending stud originally from the Ukraine, now living in Russia. But with the country's harsh antigay laws forbidding so-called "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," LGBT activists unfurling rainbow flags or gathering to discuss their identities have been beaten, harassed, and arrested. Last month, four Dutch tourists who were filming a documentary on LGBT life in Russia were arrested under the new law.
LGBT entertainment blog The Back Building scored an exclusive interview with Petel, who says despite his clearly muscular and often masculine appearance, he's still scared to walk down the street in Moscow. He says he's been harassed and beaten, and is thinking of leaving the country to escape the persecution that continues to escalate under President Vladimir Putin's draconian policies.
Petel tells Back Building he's "very disappointed" in Russia right now… but can't get access to visas to travel to the European Union or the U.S., and doesn't want to risk going back to "poor Ukraine," where he promises fans would never hear from him again.
Asked if he feels safe in Moscow, Petel is blunt: "No, sometimes people threaten me and sometimes they even attack," he said. "That’s why I started changing my appearance in Russia. I am worried about my life and health. Nevertheless, everybody recognizes me out on the streets and wants to take pictures with me. Of course, society now is more aggressive towards people like me. Sometimes I am really scared, but, as I have said before, I don’t have an opportunity to move to the States at the moment. This process requires a lot of documents, and more importantly — money."
Petel has made a name for himself as an artist and model often bending gender by cross-dressing or being naked in public. But under the new laws, Petel says he "will censor and change my style."
Click through for more photos of Pavel Petel .