Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev: Russia is not a homophobic country and I’m not gay

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Media tycoon Evgeny Lebedev has defended his native country Russia from suggestions it’s intrinsically homophobic and says he doesn’t care if people think he is gay.

Lebedev, 34, is the Russian-born British chairman and owner of both the London Evening Standard and The Independent newspapers.

His father, Alexander, is a former KGB spy turned billionaire oligarch and high-profile critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime.

In an interview to The Guardian, journalist Decca Aitkenhead asked the billionaire son about rumours on his sexuality.

He replied: “I couldn’t care, to be honest with you. I find those discussions quite funny. I actually find it flattering.”

Lebedev dismissed the idea that Russia’s political clampdown on LGBT rights was preventing him from coming out as gay, saying: “No, if I was, I’d come out.”

He continued: “Russia is not a homophobic country. No. When the whole thing about Russia’s gay laws blew up, and there was talk of boycotting the Sochi Olympics, I said that’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, because isolating and ostracising a country is like isolating somebody who is going slightly mad. But you put them in a madness asylum they get madder and madder and completely lose their mind, whereas if you work with them, they get better.” Every country has homophobes – the only difference, he added, is that in Britain “idiots are usually isolated, they are not part of the mainstream, whereas in Russia idiots are allowed to be part of the mainstream, they are given airtime, they are listened to, they write articles”.