Russian government homosexuality position leads to NYC Russian vodka boycott

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Russian vodka
Image: Anthony Knuppel Appleton.

As of Monday, over 200 New York City area bars and restaurants had committed to boycotting Russian vodka in response to anti-homosexuality related laws passed by the country's government. The boycott follows another event that took place on Monday where bottles of vodka were poured onto the streets of the city, as part of a protest by the President of United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association, Paul Hurley.

New York One quotes Hurley as saying the reason for the boycott as , "We're not stupid, we're reading papers, we're reading what's going on over there, they've got to stop what's happened."

The press conference announcing the New York City boycott took place at Desmonds Steakhouse located on the 38th Street and 7th Avenue. LGBT activists and models attended the event. Johnny Donovan, manager of J Donovan Productions, is quoted by the New York Daily Times as saying, "Shame on Russia! [...] When I go out to a night club this weekend, I'm not drinking any Russian vodka!"

Activists in other cities are also boycotting Russian vodka. A protest at the San Francisco City Hall took place on Tuesday, where vodka was dumped into the sewers. On social media, the hashtag #dumpstoli is being used to draw attention to the boycott and protests.

These boycotts are not without criticism. Dodds of Time Magazine points out, "At first glance, Stoli seems a logical target for those hoping to promote greater awareness of the plight of gays in Russia. Not only is it widely associated with the country, vodka is also one of Russia’s most profitable consumer exports to the U.S. [...] But while Stoli’s ingredients — wheat, rye and raw alcohol — are Russian, the vodka itself is distilled in Latvia and distributed in the U.S. by William Grant & Sons USA, an American subsidiary of a Scottish corporation." The international popularity of the brand have resulted in the company being continually threatened with nationalization by the Russian government.

A 2013 world map showing areas same-sex couple adoption rules
Image: Titanicophile.

Last month, gay and lesbian couples were barred by law from adopting Russian children. The country also banned "homosexual propaganda." The legislation means gays and lesbians, if found guilty of breaking these laws, could be jailed. According to Russia Today, most Russians support the legislation "against promoting homosexuality to minors." Russia Today goes on to say these laws are, "intend[ed] to keep minors from being influenced by non-traditional sexual relationship propaganda and it will be enforced with fines, but not criminal punishment."

A Pew Research Center study published in June suggests that attitudes towards homosexuality in Russia found the population to be the least accepting of homosexuals of nine other European countries also surveyed. Countries with less acceptance than Russia included in the survey include Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. Negative Russian attitudes towards homosexuality are also supported by research conducted by Russian Levada Center.

The homosexuality issue as it pertains to Russian law comes against the backdrop of the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics scheduled to be hosted in the Russian city of Sochi early next year. Last week, Russian Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko reaffirmed the country will enforce these laws during the Games and foreign athletes, journalists and spectators will be subject to them.