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Social Issues
Vancouver Bars Boycott Russian Vodka To Protest Anti-Gay Laws
July 26, 2013
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Russian Standard vodka on display at a New York bar (Photo: Getty)

In June of this year, the Kremlin passed a law making it illegal to spread "propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations" to minors and banning "homosexual propaganda," Reuters reports.

Foreigners who are found to have broken the law can face deportation from Russia, fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,500), or up to 15 days detention.

Critics point to the law as evidence of increasing homophobia in Russia, and Amnesty International reports that gay rights activists are facing "frequent" violent attacks.

Now some Canadian bars are taking part in a boycott of Russian vodka to protest the law. Pink News reports that at least two bars in Vancouver have stopped serving Russian vodkas.

"We're just taking a stand in solidarity and support for the LGBT community worldwide," said Drew Watling, the manager of the Fountainhead Pub in Vancouver, which has joined the boycott.

"If enough people stand up and say something then hopefully it'll get a lot more notoriety and get people talking," he continued.

Celebrities, The Cobalt, Oasis, Score and the Pumpjack, all located in Vancouver, are also participating in the boycott, as are some establishments in the U.S. including Sidetrack, a large gay bar in Chicago, and London's Ku Bar in the UK, which has a new ad that reads "we serve a range of non-Russian vodka."

russian-vodka-boycott-dump-stoli.jpgThe idea of a vodka boycott originated with sex columnist and journalist Dan Savage. This Wednesday, Savage published a piece titled 'Why I'm Boycotting Russian Vodka'.

In it, he writes about the situation in Russia and calls on bars and individuals to stop serving and buying Russian vodka.

The campaign uses the hashtags #DumpStoli and #DumpRussianVodka to encourage people to join the boycott (the image above left was designed by strategic communications consultant Matt Fikse-Verkerk for Savage).

Val Mendeleev, the CEO of Stoli, has already responded to Savage's post with a letter denouncing "the recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian government limiting the rights of the LGBT community" and detailing the ways his company has supported gay rights in the U.S., Austria and South Africa.

russia-gay-stoli-side.jpgAmerica Blog also points to the home page of Stoli's website, where visitors see the message on the right, along with a link to Mendeleev's letter.

Savage has responded to the letter, Salon reports, asking "what has SPI [Stoli's parent company] done in Russia" to help LGBT people, and demanding the company take action to protest Russian government actions.

Peter Weber, senior editor at 'The Week', writes that in his opinion, the boycott won't have much effect, at least not directly: "a modest boycott of Russian vodka in the U.S. won't bring Russian vodka brands, or the Russian government, to its knees."

He points out that the U.S. "isn't the only market for Russian vodka," and that vodka companies actually earn more money from selling their products inside Russia.

There's been a lot of talk this week about Russia's laws and the Sochi Olympics. Here's a roundup of some of those stories:

The IOC Says Olympics Guests will be "Exempt" from Arrests Under the New Law

russian-vodka-boycott-ioc.jpgAccording to the International Olympic Committee, the Russian government has offered assurances that athletes and spectators at the 2014 Olympics will be exempt from the anti-propaganda law, the Moscow Times reports.

"As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media," the IOC said in a statement.

Since the law was passed in June, one group of international visitors has been charged. The first foreigners to face legal action are four Dutch nationals, who were arrested this past Sunday for allegedly violating the ban on "homosexual propaganda."

The group was in the northern city of Murmansk, Advocate reports, where they were filming a documentary about LGBT life. Russian officials seized the filmmakers' footage, alleging that they had interviewed a person under the age of 18 about homosexuality.

The Dutch filmmakers told the BBC that the interviewee had informed them he was 18. Each of the visitors was fined 3,000 rubles ($93) for violating visa rules.

Calls For (And Against) a Boycott of the Sochi Olympics

russian-vodka-boycott-rusa-lgbt.jpgIn June, a group of gays and lesbians from Russia and the former Soviet republics who are now living in the U.S. called on those planning to attend the 2014 Olympics in Sochi to skip the games.

The group, RUSA LGBT, wants people to boycott the games to protest Russia's stance on gay rights.

"LGBT people in Russia are scared, they live in fear, and we want people to be aware of the issue. If they feel strongly about human rights they should boycott the Olympics in Sochi," Nina Long, the co-president of RUSA LGBT, told RIA Novosti.

Patrick Burke, the co-founder of You Can Play, an organization that works to end homophobia in sports, has responded to the idea of an Olympic boycott with a post on Buzzfeed.

Burke argues that athletes and allies should show up to the games. He writes that the Sochi Olympics are an opportunity to "show the world that there are elite LGBT athletes who are not afraid to be themselves, on and off the playing field."

Evoking the image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on a medal stand with their fists in the air at the 1968 Olympics, Burke writes "History remembers the athletes who showed up."

Helen Kennedy, executive director of LGBT advocacy group Egale Canada, also came out against a boycott yesterday:

"I don't think that that is going to do the LGBT community in Russia any good. In fact, there probably may be more backlash if a boycott does occur," she told CBC News.

Concerns About Safety for the Canadian Olympic Team

russian-vodka-boycott-protester.jpgThe RCMP is planning a security briefing with athletes and other members of Canada's Olympic team to discuss, among other issues, "the recently signed law giving authorities the rights to detain tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being homosexual or pro-gay," RCMP Cpl. Laurence Trottier said in a statement.

At the same time, the Canadian federal government has updated its travel advisory for Russia, CBC News reports.

The new advisory says, in part, that "a federal law has been passed that prohibits public actions that are described as promoting homosexuality and non-traditional sexual relationships."


Russian Lawmakers Pass A Bill Making It Illegal To Tell Children Homosexuality Exists

Activists In Russia Say New Laws That Ban 'Homosexual Propaganda' Are Fuelling Attacks Against Gays

Closed For Commenting: Offensive Tweets Reveal Ugly Side Of Some Sports Fans


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