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
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
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 emphasised 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
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 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," he
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
"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
flavours that are popular with customers.
Moby Dick, a bar in San
Francisco's Castro neighbourhood, 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.