Putin as Gay Icon? Memes as a Tactic in Russian LGBT+ Activism

  • James E. Baker
  • Kelly A. Clancy
  • Benjamin Clancy


In 2016, images of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s face wearing make-up and superimposed on a gay pride flag were banned in Russia on the grounds of giving “the impression of a non-standard sexual orientation” of Putin. This intervention by the government into the image politics of Putin put Russian nationalism and sexuality into contestation with each other. In this paper, we map four “realms” or possible discourses of sexual citizenship and the Russian state. Through a semiological analysis of the “gay clown” meme, we unpack its contested meaning as a visual artifact of “queer globalization.” In light of the co-opting and criminalization of the meme and attempts by the Russian state to regulate the sexuality of its “first citizen,” we conclude that the “gay clown” meme demands a reassessment of how LGBT+ social movements use queer iconographies in virtual and public spaces.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • James E. Baker
    • 1
  • Kelly A. Clancy
    • 2
  • Benjamin Clancy
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of Nebraska–LincolnLincolnUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceNebraska Wesleyan UniversityLincolnUSA
  3. 3.Department of CommunicationUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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