Russia's Anti-Gay Laws Incite Push for Russian Liquor, Food Boycott

The boycott will be suggested to bars, cafes, taverns and restaurants city-wide.

August 4, 2013, 4:15 PM

Aug. 5, 2013— -- A New York City bar and restaurant group is calling for a city-wide boycott of all Russian-made spirits, liquors and foods to protest recent anti-gay laws implemented by the Russian government, a news release said.

The United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association of New York (URTO) and LGBT activists plan to dump Russian-made vodka into the streets of Manhattan this afternoon in hopes of inciting a ban on Russian products in "bars, cafes, taverns and restaurants across the Big Apple," the group said in a statement announcing the call.

The move is meant to protest Russian laws that ban the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and prevent citizens of countries that permit gay marriage from adopting Russian children, according to the statement.

In Russia, gay public displays of affection, including holding hands, or displaying symbols like a rainbow flag, are now banned. It is even illegal to speak about homosexuality around minors.

"A ban on Russian liquor and products could have an economic effect on the former Soviet Union," the statement said. "The URTO will be urging that people drink and eat American products instead."

Read More: Russia Warns Olympic Athletes Could Be Fined or Arrested for Violating Ant-Gay Laws

This boycott appears to be the first city-wide move to protest Russia's anti-gay sentiment.

American syndicated columnist Dan Savage first introduced the idea of a boycott on Russian vodka "to help draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and straight allies in Putin's increasingly fascistic Russia" in the Seattle alternative newspaper, The Stranger.

"Switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery," he wrote July 24. "Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka."

Since his push to "Dump Russian Vodka," bars -- gay or otherwise -- in cities across the U.S. have dumped Stolichnaya into the streets literally or symbolically by filling empty bottles with water, and have announced that their establishments were Russian-free product zones.

In response to the Russian liquor dump, Stolichnaya Vodka CEO Val Mendeleev issued a statement on the vodka brand's website July 25 saying that the company does not support the Russian government's stance on gay rights.

"I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions," he wrote. "Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community."

But Mendeleev wrote that "the Russian government has no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand," and noted that the while vodka is produced with Russian ingredients, it is distilled and bottled in Latvia.

Anti-gay sentiment runs high in Russia, where homosexuality was illegal during the Soviet Union and only decriminalized in 1993. A law that sent homosexuals to psychiatric wards wasn't annulled until 1999.

Petitions for gay pride parades in Moscow have been rejected and unsanctioned rallies have often been met by violence from counter demonstrations, while police ignore the attacks and detain the gay rights activists.

Russia's anti-gay laws have also incited controversy in light of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Russia's sports minister Vitaly Mutko said Thursday that athletes and spectators attending the Olympics will face fines, arrest and deportation if they violate the country's so-called gay "propaganda" law.

But the country doubled back Friday, citing the goal of safety and tolerance at the Games.

Read: Russia Does Olympic Flip on Anti-Gay Laws

"The Olympic Games is a major international event. We need to be as polite and tolerant as possible. That is why a decision has been made not to raise this issue during the Olympics," Igor Ananskikh, deputy chairman of the State Duma's Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Policy Committee, told Interfax.

Even some international pop stars have fallen under scrutiny for their ardent support of gay rights in Russia.

Both Lady Gaga and Madonna are facing punishment in Russia after authorities determined they violated their visas when they held concerts there in 2012.

Technically, the artists were not allowed to work in Russia on their tourist visas, but experts say it appears the visa warning is a veiled attempt to punish the pop stars for speaking out onstage against St. Petersburg's anti-gay law.

Russia hasn't announced any plans to prosecute the pop stars, but if convicted they could face steep fines or be banned from entering the country.

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