Being gay in Russia today is dangerous. And it cost one journalist his life.

We began a recent episode of Reveal with the story of a reporter who was murdered in his apartment in St. Petersburg. He wasn’t killed for what he wrote about or investigated, but because of who he was: a gay man. Hateful anti-gay rhetoric is so pervasive in Russia that it’s heard daily on television and in speeches by politicians.

We learned what’s behind this rhetoric and heard how President Vladimir Putin uses homophobia to quash political dissent, exert influence on neighboring nations and bash the West.

But what does it look like?

Photographer Mads Nissen found himself outraged a few summers ago. Outraged to have witnessed – and captured on film – a fistfight that broke out because a young man decided to come out of the closet. Punches and slurs were thrown at the man – an ugly display of the contempt for the LGBT community in Russia.

“Since that summer day, I’ve been dedicating myself to tell the story of modern homophobia in Russia. Not only the violent attacks, but also the new, so-called anti-gay law and the everyday stigma LGBT persons in Russia are facing.” — Mads Nissen

Unfortunately, this violence is ongoing.

Kirill Fedorov, 21, bleeds after national-conservative extremists surrounded and beat him and his friends as they attended a gay pride rally in St. Petersburg, Russia. The group tries to stick together and seek cover behind police as stones and eggs are thrown at them. The rally was declared illegal under the Russian law banning gay propaganda. Fedorov and the other LGBT activists were arrested and later taken to court. Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight
LGBT activists who aren’t arrested by police usually leave rallies together in buses to avoid being followed and attacked. As the bus waits in traffic, national-conservative extremists surround the bus and try to smash the windows with rocks.Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight
Ekaterina Alekseeva, 21, appears in court after being arrested at a gay pride rally in June 2013. The day before her court appearance, President Vladimir Putin signed the so-called gay propaganda bill into law. Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight
Russian activists gather on May 18, 2014, to remember those who have died of HIV/AIDS on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight
Three members of a special Russian police unit watch an LGBT rally in St. Petersburg. Despite a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships,” popularly known as the law against gay propaganda, this rally was allowed to go ahead. Unlike at other similar events, only a few anti-gay extremists showed up to protest. Organizers of the rally allegedly had agreed with police in advance that they would avoid certain signs and slogans.Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight
A man smokes a cigarette at the Central Station nightclub, one of the few havens for LGBT people in St. Petersburg. Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight
Yaroslav Yevtushenko (left) kisses his boyfriend, Dmitry Chunosov, at St. Petersburg’s registry office, where the couple attempted to officially register their marriage as an act of protest. They were promptly rejected by authorities. Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight Credit: Mads Nissen/Catchlight

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.