The backlash started after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an “anti-gay propaganda law” on June 30 after the Russian Parliament unanimously passed the anti-gay bill on June 11.
Since then, photos and stories of atrocities taking place against LGBT people living in Russia have been making international headlines, including calls for the U.S. and others to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Blake’s on the Park announced on July 31 it would also stop selling Stoli, stating in a Facebook post, “While our refusal to serve Stoli in itself is not necessarily a grand gesture likely to bring about reform, this act may prove effective in helping to at least begin to stir the winds of change.”
Also, Amsterdam posted a photo to its Facebook page this weekend stating it is standing in solidarity with Russian LGBT people by “Proudly not serving Stolichnya.”
However, Richard Cherskov, managing owner of Jungle, believes the boycott of Stoli is “misplaced.”
“I think this Stoli boycott is misplaced. Stoli has been a supporter of the community (at least in America) and this boycott will hurt Americans (i.e. local distributors, etc.) more than it help this cause in Russia,” he said in an email interview.
“So for now we are not making any changes. I think this is akin to the ‘boycott Florida’ thing over the Zimmerman case — people want something to lash out against, but perhaps are doing so against the wrong target,” Cherskov said.
Australian gay bars are also joining the boycott against Russian vodka as the boycott builds up steam around the globe.
Openly gay U.S. Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir is opposed to any boycott, however, saying he believes Olympians can show solidarity for LGBT Russians by showing a strong presence.
But U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is speaking out to Russian officials about the abhorrent treatment of gay Russians as well as his concern of how Olympic athletes will be treated.
The boycott of Stoli and Russian vodka was started by a column from Dan Savage of the Seattle Stranger, an activist who also, with his husband, began the “It Gets Better” campaign.
“But boycott or no boycott there is something we can do right here, right now, in Seattle and other US 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,” Savage wrote.
However, Cherskov of Atlanta’s Jungle may be right. Stoli’s CEO explained to Bloomberg Businessweek how his company is a strong supporter of LGBT rights and there is now plenty of back-and-forth if dumping Stoli is actually worthwhile as a way to demonstrate against Russia’s anti-gay law. From the Bloomberg story:
SPI Chief Executive Officer Val Mendeleev tells Bloomberg Businessweek that his company supports LGBT causes and the Stoli boycott is “totally unfair.” He has not spoken to Savage. Since the controversy, Stoli’s home page and Facebook page have gone full-on rainbow. Stoli is the 12th-best-selling vodka brand in the U.S. and 14th in the world, according to data from researcher Euromonitor International.
The gay community “is one of the active consumers of Stoli,” Mendeleev says. To reach this group, Stoli, under SPI, produced a documentary series called “Be Real: Stories From Queer America” in 2006, for instance. And in search of LGBT ambassadors for the brand, Stoli has been holding a series of events in U.S. cities since July 9 called the Most Original Stoli Guy.
Arguments explaining that Stoli is not a Russian vodka are going viral, including this ditty titled, “Silly Gays: A Complete History of Stoli Vodka as told by GIFS.”
CNN also took a closer look at whether or not the Stoli boycott is appropriate and whether or not Stoli is actually a Russian company. Check out their story below.
Top photo via Facebook.