When Liam Campbell first traveled to Colombia last year, he expected to find “a dangerous place full of drug gangs and foreign kidnappings.”
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Campbell, who is the editor and founder of the queer culture and lifestyle magazine Elska, said he couldn’t have been more mistaken. The nation’s capital city, Bogotá, was colorful, cosmopolitan and home to one of the most vibrant LGBTQ scenes the former flight attendant said he’s ever experienced.
He interviewed and photographed members of Bogotá’s gay community for Elska’s new issue, released Monday. Campbell said the 164-page edition is one of the “most honest and intimate” in the magazine’s nearly three-year history, profiling 15 local men of varying ages and body types, pictured in various stages of undress.
Previous editions of the magazine, which Campbell launched in 2015, have featured pictorials shot in Lisbon, Portugal; Mumbai, India; and Haifa, Israel. The Bogotá issue is the first to be shot in Latin America.
“We got recommendations for all sorts of places, but Bogotá surprised us as the one that seemed the most gay-friendly,” Campbell told HuffPost. “We were sold.”
Compared to much of the rest of Latin America, Colombia has shown a progressive stance on LGBTQ rights for years. Same-sex marriage was legalized there in 2016, and a proposed referendum that could have rescinded adoption rights for same-sex couples was rejected by the Colombian Congress last year.
Still, discrimination against LGBTQ people remains commonplace. A study cited by the Religious News Service in 2015 found that 54 percent of Bogotá’s queer community felt they’d experienced discrimination. Among the city’s transgender residents, that number jumped to 73 percent.
The men featured in Elska were candid about the troubles they’ve faced. One man opened up about his struggles to start a new life in Colombia after fleeing Venezuela, while another wrote about escaping his past as a sex worker.
“We found some of the most open people ever met anywhere,” Campbell said, “which is why there’s rather more nudity than other issues and why the stories are so raw.”
View more images from the new issue of Elska below.