Here's Why Gay Men Are Dumping Russian Vodka

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Now, more than ever, the type of vodka one drinks is very important to gay men. This time it has to do with gay rights. More specifically, we're talking about Russia — the supposed birthplace of "the little water" — and that the country has passed one anti-gay bill after another, effectively making being gay or even telling a child that gay people exist a punishable offensive. And now, Russian vodka companies could pay the price.

Over the past few months, Russian lawmakers have made that nation increasingly hostile to homosexuals. In June, for example, Czar President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning "gay propaganda," which not only prohibits gay pride marches but potentially sends people to prison for explaining homosexuality to children. That same month, Putin signed yet another law allowing police to jail tourists who are believed to be homosexuals. And in July, Stalin Putin signed a law that bans gay couples, among other constituencies, from adopting Russian children. BuzzFeed has a powerful series of photos starkly showing the state-sanctioned violence gay people routinely face there.

Bottom line: it's terrible to be a gay person in Russia, and LGBT folks lucky enough not to be living there are stuck helplessly watching as Moscow becomes increasingly hostile to gays. And that anger is manifesting itself in calls to boycott the 2014 Olympic games, which will take place in the southern Russian city of Sochi, as well as smaller, more accessible moves, like telling gay bars to dump their Russian vodka. 

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The face of the Russian vodka boycott is Dan Savage, the man known for permanently attaching Rick Santorum's name to frothy feces and the brain behind the It Gets Better anti-bullying project. Savage explains that vodka is a good place to start:

[B]oycott 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.

Following Savage's lead is Sidetrack, one Chicago's biggest gay bars. Its statement, picked up by the Huffington Post, reads: 

Sidetrack cannot support a brand so associated with Russia at a time when Russia is implementing (against strong world criticism) it's [sic] anti-gay law that bans gay "propaganda". The Stoli story is complicated by decades of lawsuits whereby the actual Government of Russia has laid claim to the Stolichnaya brand name. 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.

A fellow Chicago bar has propped up a sign that states, "proudly serving non-Russian vodkas."

Now, will this push be enough to actually hurt Russia's vodka companies and affect change? There is evidence, according to one marketing study, that 45 percent of gay men and 44 percent of lesbians who drink prefer to drink vodka. That's a solid number, but given that LGBT people are just a small number of the general population, the boycott could be futile.

What Savage and fellow vodka boycotters need is for this movement to catch fire among straight allies. There's nothing wrong with gin, after all.

[Note from Editor: An earlier version of this article opened with a different lead paragraph. It didn't get the message across and was amended.]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.