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Topics In the News
More Calls for Boycotting Russia and Russian Products
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 07/25/13
Last updated on: 07/26/13
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As more evidence of the persecution of gay people in Russia emerges, there have been more calls for boycotts of the Russian Olympics, Russian tourism, and Russian products, especially Russian vodka. Following Harvey Fierstein's powerful op-ed in the New York Times on July 22, 2013 calling on Western nations to boycott the 2014 Winter Games scheduled for Sochi, more leaders in the glbtq community have called for additional and alternative boycotts.

On July 22, 2013, BuzzFeed published horrific photographs of the violence experienced by gay people in Russia. It is clear that a "pogram" is underway in the Russian Federation in which gay people are being scapegoated as Russia slips into fascism. In Putin's new order, homosexuals are targeted to distract from the failures of his leadership.

As Brenden Shucart observes in FrontiersLA.com, "We all see the road Russia is marching down. We know where that path leads. It doesn't stop with banning 'gay propaganda'--that's just a fancy way of saying LGBT individuals can't speak out in their own defense. Once it is illegal for you to defend yourself, they control your image and they can say whatever they like about you, do whatever they want to you, take whatever they please from you, even your life. And if that happens and we didn't do anything to stop it except not go to some sporting event, we will all bear that shame for the rest of our lives."

Fierstein's call for a boycott of the Russian Olympics has met with some feedback. For example, Cyd Zeigler at OutSports.com has strongly rejected the call, writing that "No athlete good enough to compete in the Olympics should ever be told by her country that she cannot fulfill her lifelong dream. The Olympics aren't about politics, they're about putting politics aside and competing in friendship. The LGBT community needs to go after politicians and government officials to affect change in Russia and leave the future of Olympic athletes alone."

Zeigler adds, "Instead of walking away, LGBT athletes and their nations should march into Sochi holding their heads high. It's a lesson we learned in 1936 when the United States faced a similar decision: Attend the Berlin Games as the Third Reich was rising to power, or stay home due to mounting human rights concerns. The Americans attended those Games and gave rise to Jesse Owens, a black athlete who beat Hitler's 'master race' at his own game on his own track."

"We can do the same thing in Sochi. Want to make the Olympics a gay spectacle? Follow the Jesse Owens model: Beat the Russians on their own track. Help out LGBT athletes get onto the podium. Donate to the efforts of people like openly gay Kiwi speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who skated in the 2010 Olympic Games and who's aiming for a medal in Sochi (donate to Skjellerup's efforts here). The power of the community isn't to force governments to play politics but to lift up our brightest stars and help them, like Owens, deliver our message for us."

"You don't win in sports by walking away; You win by competing," Zeigler writes, and then adds: "if we desperately need a boycott, I suggest looking a little closer to home. Imagine the message it would send if every gay bar and LGBT consumer stopped buying Russian vodka."

In his blog at Seattle's Stranger on July 24, Dan Savage also expressed some ambivalence about a boycott of the Olympics but issued a full-throated call for a boycott of Russian vodka.

Savage writes that "If there isn't [an Olympics] 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," he continues, "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."

Savage provides a list of Russian vodkas currently distributed in the United States. Chief among them are Russian Standard and Stolichnaya.

He implores his readers, "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. . . . Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar--gay or otherwise--to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA."

On July 24, Chicago gay bar Sidetrack announced that it would no longer serve Russian products. As Matt Simonette reports in Windy City News, "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."

Boycotts have a long history in the gay rights movement. As Linda Rapp observes, in her entry on the subject, "Boycotts have been used with varying degrees of success to attempt to effect changes in the policies of target institutions or corporations."

Interestingly, two of the most successful boycotts in glbtq history have involved the participation of gay bars: the Coors Beer boycott and the Florida Orange Juice boycott. They were successful because the glbtq community used its buying power to make a statement.

In both cases, the boycotts imposed little hardship on consumers. California orange juice was just as wholesome as Florida orange juice and it came without Anita Bryant's bigotry. Similarly, there were many alternatives to Coors beer.

Likewise, Russian vodka is a vulnerable target. There are lots of non-Russian vodkas readily available and just as good. (My favorite, Grey Goose, is a French vodka!)

It is important to let Russia know that there will be a price to be paid for its bigotry.

In 2012, the international gay rights organization AllOut.org called for a boycott by tourists of St. Petersburg, Russia's largest tourist attraction, to protest the anti-gay legislation recently passed there.

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