Vodka Boycott: Russia Anti-Gay Law Protest Spreads

A vodka protest has sprung up in response to the anti-gay law in Russia, but as bartenders across America ditch the Russian booze critics warn that the protest may be hitting unintended targets.

The vodka boycott originated from syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, who started a campaign to “Dump Russian Vodka” after the country passed a series of anti-gay laws. In recent months Russian president Vladimir Putin signed legislation banning same-sex couples from adopting and outlawing “homosexual propaganda.”

Critics believe that law will give the government wide-ranging abilities to arrest and fine homosexuals for nearly any reason.

The propaganda law has also raised concerns that gay foreign athletes could be arrested at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Vitaly Milonov, who co-sponsored the bill against “non-traditional relationships,” said the government is bound to enforce the law, even if it means imposing fines on athletes.

It is against this backdrop that the vodka boycott started, hoping to put pressure on Russia to end the anti-gay law.

“Show the world that Russian persecution of gays is unacceptable,” a campaign flier states. “Boycott Russian vodka until persecution of gays and their allies ends.”

It has started to pick up some traction. G Lounge, a gay bar in New York City, posted on its Facebook page that it will no longer serve the popular brand Stolichnaya and other Russian alcohol. Other bars across the United States, Canada, and Europe have joined in, with some comparing it to boycotts of the Civil Rights Movement.

But while the vodka boycott aims to strike Russia for its anti-gay law, critics say the target is on the wrong place. Stolichnaya’s CEO, Val Mendeleev, has been an outspoken critic of the law and wrote an open letter stating support for the LGBT community.

“We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia,” Mendeleev wrote. “In the past decade, [we have] been actively advocating in favor of freedom, tolerance and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction.”

The message seems to have gotten through to at least some of the bars participating in the vodka boycott. Moby Dick, a bar in San Francisco, started serving Stolichnaya again after the CEO affirmed his opposition to Russia for its anti-gay law.