Buzzfeed has a photo essay—"36 Photos from Russia That Everyone Needs to See"—that will bring anyone who hasn't been paying attention to the situation in Russia up to speed. And Harvey Fierstein's opinion piece in Monday's NYT offers a great summary of Putin's escalating anti-gay pogrom:
Just six months before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Games, Mr. Putin signed a law allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or “pro-gay” and detain them for up to 14 days.... Earlier in June, Mr. Putin signed yet another antigay bill, classifying “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. The law is broad and vague, so that any teacher who tells students that homosexuality is not evil, any parents who tell their child that homosexuality is normal, or anyone who makes pro-gay statements deemed accessible to someone underage is now subject to arrest and fines. Even a judge, lawyer or lawmaker cannot publicly argue for tolerance without the threat of punishment.
These anti-gay laws come after years of escalating attacks on gay pride events and LGBT people in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moscow's city government has banned pride parades for 100 years; in St. Petersburg a small group of LGBT-rights demonstrators was attacked by a violent mob earlier this summer. These attacks are not new and they're getting worse.
Gay and lesbian Russians living in the United States are calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Games, which are taking place in the Russian city of Sochi:
The group is calling for a boycott of the games, saying the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is not safe in Russia—and they hope even those who are not gay will support the ban. “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,” said Nina Long, co-president of RUSA LGBT, a Russian-speaking LGBT organization based in New York. “We really want the LGBT community to know it’s unsafe to travel there."
It is unsafe for gay people to travel in Russia: this week four gay Dutch tourists were arrested for spreading "gay propaganda" in Russia.
Most of us weren't planning to go to the Olympic games in Russia this winter, of course, so we wouldn't be able to participate in a boycott if one got off the ground. And there are good arguments to be made against boycotting the Olympics in Sochi. Outsports opposes a boycott. And Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project, an organization for gay athletes and their straight allies, makes a solid argument against a boycott:
In 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to play in the Olympics as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. The same year, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on a medal stand, gloved fists in the air, as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. History remembers the athletes who showed up.... To send the strongest possible message of support to the LGBT community, we must send our athletes—those who are LGBT, those who are LGBT-supportive, those with LGBT family members or friends. Let them show that champions stand strong with their teammates and training partners. Send our openly LGBT and “publicly pro-gay” athletes and let them compete. Let them win. Show the world that there are elite LGBT athletes who are not afraid to be themselves, on and off the playing field. That the majority of the world’s finest athletes support their LGBT teammates, coaches, and opponents by treating them as equals in competition.
If there isn't a boycott—if gay and pro-gay athletes compete at the Olympics in Sochi this winter—there must be a protest during the Sochi Olympics that is as powerful and indelible as Tommie Smith and John Carlos's protest during the Mexico City Olympics. It should happen on the medal stand while the world watches.
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.
Here is a list of Russian vodkas currently available in the US: Dovgan, Gold Symphony, Standart, Hrenovuha, Kauffman , Kubanskaya, Moskovskaya, Narodnaya, Pyatizvyozdnaya, Putinka, Rodnik, Ruskova, Russian Standard, Shustov, Starka, Stolnaya, Youri Dolgoruki. The two best known Russian vodkas? Russian Standard and Stolichnaya.
Matt Fikse-Verkerk, a strategic communications consultant here in Seattle, has been calling queer bars in Seattle to find out if they serve Stoli, the most iconic brand of Russian vodka. (Matt also created the image above. The image is currently my Twitter avatar—why not make it yours?) Every single gay bar whose manager Matt got on the phone told him that they were serving Stoli. Purr, The Cuff, The Lobby Bar, Madison Pub, Bottleneck Lounge, C. C. Attle's, Changes, the Crescent Lounge, Diesel, and R-Place—they're all serving Stoli. It's a good bet that the Seattle Eagle, Neighbours, the Wildrose, Pony, and the rest of Seattle's gay bars are serving Stoli too.
Seattle's bars, gay and straight, must dump Stoli. Seattle's drinkers, gay and straight, must dump Stoli.
Some are arguing—based on Stoli's outdated Wiki page and the claims being made by Stoli itself—that Stoli isn't a Russian vodka. "Presently the internationally distributed version of Stolichnaya is not a Russian vodka but is distilled and bottled in Latvia," Stoli's Wiki page currently (and erroneously) reads. "In 2009, William Grant & Sons signed an agreement to distribute Stolichnaya in the USA, taking over from PepsiCo." That's old news. On January 1, 2014, Stoli becomes a Russian vodka again. William Grant & Sons will no longer be distributing Stoli in the United States at the start of the new year:
William Grant & Sons and SPI Group announce that their current contract for the importation, distribution and marketing of Stolichnaya Vodka in the United States will not be renewed when it expires on December 31, 2013. The decision is a result of SPI Group’s desire to manage its portfolio of brands directly; SPI Group will therefore be establishing its own importing company in the United States during 2013, commencing operations on 1st January 2014.
The SPI Group—which will be distributing Stoli in the USA before the Olympic games begin this winter—is owned by Yuri Scheffler, one of the 100 richest men in Russia. Stoli is a Russian vodka.
DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.
If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands listed above, switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery. Stoli is the iconic Russian Vodka and it's returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.
Own a gay bar in Seattle? Stop serving Russian vodkas.
Tweet your support using the hashtags #DUMPSTOLI and #DUMPRUSSIANVODKA. And tell you friends about what is happening in Russia and ask them to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.
UPDATE: Chicago's biggest gay bar announced tonight that they are no longer selling Stoli or any other Russian products. Windy City Times:
Sidetrack today said that it would be removing Stolichnaya Vodka and other Russian products from their shelves. The decision comes in the wake of Russia's implementation of oppressive anti-gay laws last month.
"I had been following the various news reports about what was going on in Russia," said co-owner Art Johnston. "It's hard to believe that they could carry out and enforce that kind of a law, but they did." He added that there was no way he could in good conscience continue to serve Stolichnaya or any other Russian products at the nightclub. Businesses that imported and distributed Stolichnaya for Sidetrack have been huge supporters of the LGBT community, Johnston said. "They've always been quite responsive to us, so it's not a move that we take lightly."
The ownership of the Stolichnaya name was the subject of international litigation for many years. In 2012, it was returned to the Russian government. A statement Sidetrack posted on its Facebook page noted the irony: "Very soon the Russian government itself, which bans positive portrayals of LGBT people, may be the beneficiary of the goodwill earned by Stoli's distributors and bars over the years."
The Call, another gay bar in Chicago, posted this sign tonight that reads, "Proudly serving non-Russian vodkas." Seattle's gay bars should follow Sidetrack and The Call's lead and stop serving Stoli or other Russian products.