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Vladimir Putin on the cover of The AdvocateThe Advocate

Is Putin the world's most influential LGBT rights figure?

The Advocate certainly think so: they named the Russian president ‘Person of the Year’

LGBT magazine The Advocate raised a few eyebrows (and moustaches) last week when they announced that Vladimir Putin has been chosen as their "Person of the Year" for their Year In Review issue. That's Putin the Russian President, the man who passed a law in 2013 banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" and welcomed Olympic athletes to Sochi on the condition that they didn't "promote homosexuality and paedophilia among minors".

But if Putin seems a strange choice for a gay publication – especially one that crowned him "Homophobe of the Year" in 2013 – a glance at the cover tells a different story. "Person of the Year" is printed in bold type neatly beneath Putin's nose. Some wondered if this was trolling at its best, a deliberate cavort with controversy in the name of a headline. But we wanted to get The Advocate's side of the story and find out exactly why they gave somebody who couldn't give two fucks about gay people place of pride on their cover. Conversation with editor Matthew Breen below.

Why pick Putin? Why not pick a positive role model?

Matthew Breen: We do laud positive role models on a regular basis: Our covers with actress Laverne Cox and Houston Mayor Annise Parker are recent examples. But in answering the question, "Who had the most impact on LGBT people globally in 2014?", the answer was clear.

Who were the other people in the running for your "Person of the Year" award?

Matthew Breen: Football player Michael Sam, actress and activist Laverne Cox, and Apple CEO Tim Cook, were all newsmakers this year. But Vladimir Putin is spearheading the governmental, religious, and popular disdain for the gays and lesbians of an entire nation.

How have people reacted to your choice?

Matthew Breen: I’ve seen very little middle ground in responses. Readers seem to love it or hate it. I read "genius" in a lot of the comments. Some of those who hated it felt that the title should be given to a role model and that we failed to do that by picking a villain. Others wrote that they felt "Person of the Year" is actually an honor we’ve bestowed on Putin, a notion I can’t fathom, especially given the text treatment on the cover. 

Do you think it’s fair to say that it’s a move designed to provoke debate and controversy?

Matthew Breen: We knew we’d see highly polarized responses to the cover. But the purpose was to answer the question, "Who had the most impact on LGBT people globally in 2014?" One effect is to keep the treatment of queer Russians in conversation, post-Sochi. The world must not forget what’s happening there now that the Olympics are over.

Did you speak to any Russians before printing?

Matthew Breen: Yes, and I got enthusiastic response to the idea.

Do you think Putin really is that close to Hitler?

Matthew Breen: There are undeniable parallels in Putin’s scapegoating of gays and lesbians and the Nazi scapegoating of Jews, gays and lesbians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Romani. He’s describing gays and lesbians and the nefarious export of western hegemony that Russia must resist, to remain pure. He’s tacitly encouraging the confluence of homosexuality and pedophilia in Russians’ minds as a cynical means of maintaining his power. His thugs are torturing and killing us. He’s got blood on his hands. He’s a global threat. It’s not an idle comparison.