Vodka boycott in U.S. spreads on concerns over gay rights in Russia

Wed Jul 31, 2013 8:32pm EDT

Seattle gay-rights advocate and journalist Dan Savage (L) and Terry Miller sort through roses on the steps of City Hall after getting married at Seattle City Hall in Seattle, Washington, in this December 9, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Cliff Despeaux/Files

Seattle gay-rights advocate and journalist Dan Savage (L) and Terry Miller sort through roses on the steps of City Hall after getting married at Seattle City Hall in Seattle, Washington, in this December 9, 2012 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Cliff Despeaux/Files

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(Reuters) - Gay rights activists in New York City dumped vodka onto the street on Wednesday to protest new laws in Russia targeting homosexuals, as a growing number of gay bar owners across the United States vowed to stop pouring Russian vodka.

"Boycotts are set for a reason. We're trying to influence change, and maybe change what's happening in Russia," said Chuck Hyde, general manager of Sidetrack, the largest gay bar in Chicago, which stopped carrying Stolichnaya about a week ago.

The boycott was called last week by gay rights activist and Seattle-based sex advice columnist Dan Savage in response to anti-gay violence and restrictive laws in Russia. Since then, owners of mostly gay bars from San Francisco to New York have vowed to stop serving Stolichnaya and other Russian vodka.

Gay rights advocates in New York City, carrying signs that read "Russian vodka: infused with hate," gathered outside the Russian consulate on Wednesday protesting Russia's stance on gay issues. They emptied bottles of Russian vodka onto the pavement.

The call to "dump Russian vodka" came after Russian investigators said in May that a 23-year-old man had been tortured and killed after revealing to a friend that he was gay.

In June, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law banning gay "propaganda," which critics have said effectively disallows all gay rights rallies and could be used to prosecute anyone voicing support for homosexuals. Putin also banned same-sex couples from adopting Russian children.

The boycott has focused heavily on Stolichnaya vodka, which is made from Russian ingredients, even though the company has said it supports gay rights.

In an open letter sent a day after Savage's call for a boycott, Val Mendeleev, chief executive of Stolichnaya's parent company the SPI Group, distanced his enterprise from the Kremlin's policies and emphasized that the Russian government has no ownership stake in the Luxembourg-based company.

"Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community," he wrote. "We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference."

Russia is due to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Savage wrote in a column last week that an Olympic boycott was neither practical nor necessarily desirable.

"There is something we can do right here, right now, in Seattle and other U.S. cities to show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and straight allies in Putin's increasingly fascistic Russia: DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA," he wrote.

Savage was on vacation and did not immediately respond to an email request on Wednesday for comment on the widening boycott.

Ben Kampler, a bartender at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City's Greenwich Village, said most gay bars in the area, including Stonewall, had joined the boycott.

"It's pretty much every bar in the area," he said, adding that the bar had asked brands like Absolut to supply vodka to match the Stoli flavors that are popular with customers.

Moby Dick, a bar in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, joined the boycott last week but its owner, Joe Cappelletti, said he stopped it on Wednesday after learning that Stolichnaya has been a longtime advocate of gay rights.

(Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Edith Honan in New York, Laila Kearney in San Francisco; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Toni Reinhold)

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Comments (12)
skidzarela wrote:
Nice gesture but I really doubt not drinking Stoleys is going to turn any Russian heads. Try boycotting precious gems or oil or wheat from Russia if you want to make an impact. You could probably have the entire LGBT community give up Vodka for life and it wouldn’t even make a ripple in their economy. They are basically punishing a non Russian company (Lithuianian not Luxembourg)who has nothing to do with Putin and no control whatsoever over what gets done in Russia. I know people are frustrated and want to do something about Russia’s policies but this is not the way to make a change happen.

Aug 01, 2013 4:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
paintcan wrote:
I can never understand what makes straight people so defensive about gay people? Are they afraid they will turn? That they really aren’t as straight or as well mated as they want to think? The divorce rate among heterosexual couples is still very high and world population growth is still rising, so what can they reasonably complain about?

Or do they resent the fact that gay people might have relationships without children? Children are something that some comments seem to wish more people would refrain from making if the parents weren’t affluent enough to pay for them. I once heard from a priest I talked to about the issue over thirty years ago who resented the fact that gay couples had educations and the incomes to occupy old houses in the South End of Boston and renovate them. They brought that neighborhood back, actually. And he was complaining from the rectory of one of the more affluent parishes in Massachusetts where few married couples were having large families anymore. He also resented people with higher educations until the diocese sent him back to school. He may not even be a priest anymore but I moved again so never saw him again.

It must be in the Russian cultural “genes” – the desire to have a Tzar as much as it is for the ME to have absolutist forms of government.

Putin, or the Russian population, may not understand that development and cost of living issues limit birth rates. In agricultural economies one can grow children like they were crops and put them to work at an early age. In developed industrialized economies the child starts generating bills almost from the moment of conception. Almost anything a person can do in an industrialized economy costs him/her money. They have to struggle to make money so don’t have the means to make many babies.

Here’s a little alliteration – “Putin panders to peasant prejudices”.

Aug 03, 2013 8:06am EDT  --  Report as abuse
sylvan wrote:
Maybe Ed Snowden can drink Putin’s kool-aid,……..I mean Stoli; but no Russian products for me, thanks. Putin is a fascist KGB thug.

Aug 03, 2013 8:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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