Dan Savage’s message for gay Russians: It gets better

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interviewed American journalist, columnist and civil rights advocate Dan Savage about the plight of gay and trans people in Russia.

Dan was the most vocal advocate of a Russian vodka boycott, that’s been endorsed by nearly three dozen Russian lgbt leaders in order to focus the media’s, and the public’s, attention on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay crackdown.


Photo by © LaRae Lobdell

I have to say, Dan is one of the most tireless, and selfless, lgbt activists I know.  I got to know him when he offered to help on our StopDrLaura.com campaign way back in 2000, and we’ve been friends and colleagues ever since.  I don’t know anyone who is as good on television in promoting our message as Dan.

I know some people in the community like to give Dan crap, but that’s sadly a sign of success in politics, and especially it seems in gay politics.  He’s one of the most powerful, and effective, advocates that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have fighting for them.  And now he’s fighting for our community in Russia as well.  They, and we, are lucky to have him.

Dan on the goals of the Russian vodka boycott, and how it’s already worked:

RFE/RL: This summer, you helped launch a boycott of Russian vodka to protest the LGBT crackdown. A growing number of bars in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and Australia are taking part. Some people have criticized the boycott as ineffective, but you’ve defended its success.

Savage: The idea behind a boycott of an iconic product like vodka, a nation’s signature consumer product, is to get people talking, to draw attention to the reason why you called for that boycott. Nobody was talking about what was going on in Russia — what was being done to LGBT people in that country, about these horrifying laws — until we called for this boycott. That is what a boycott is supposed to do. Nobody suggested that boycotting Russian vodka would dethrone President Vladimir Putin, that it would bring Russia to its knees, that it would destroy the Russian economy.

Dan on the importance of straight allies:

FE/RL: A number of straight Russian activists have become supporters of the country’s LGBT movement. Is this a significant development?

Savage: It’s hugely important. And nothing would give the struggle for LGBT civil equality a bigger boost in Russia than straight people taking up the cause. What really changed things for gay people in the United States and the West was gay people coming out, and the hearts and minds of their friends and families and co-workers and neighbors being changed.

It’s hard for someone to believe that gay people are monsters when they personally know a gay person and they see that we are not monsters. Straight people have changed and moved and begun to see our common humanity in a way that they didn’t used to be able to, because we weren’t out to them. That’s what’s so dangerous about this law in Russia — it basically makes it illegal to be out.

Dan on Nazi Germany parallels to what’s going on in Russia today:

RFE/RL: You’ve compared what’s going on now in Russia to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Can you elaborate?

Savage: The Nazi terror wasn’t the Holocaust in a day. There was a gradual escalation of scapegoating, anti-Semitism, and political violence. No one is comparing what’s being done to LGBT Russians to what was done to the Jews in 1943 and 1942 and 1944. But it is eerily similar to what was being done to the Jews in Nazi Germany in 1933 and 1934. The initial persecution campaigns, the stigmatization, the codification into law of anti-Semitism and this kind of bigotry. All of those parallels are identical.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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26 Responses to “Dan Savage’s message for gay Russians: It gets better”

  1. Send me some stuff on the visa free travel please

  2. Email me please. You’re good :) contact AT americablog DOT com

  3. Great analogy if instead of a boycott of Russian vodka we’d launched a pogrom against baby seals. At this point, there isn’t a serious discussion any more about whether the Russian vodka boycott was a success, it was a greater success than any of us could have imagined.
    This issue languished for two years, getting next to no attention in the media, and virtually no attention from the community outside of the gay blogs and a few gay activists. Now it’s a huge international story with the community and our allies engaged across the world. I certainly realize how anyone who opposed the boycott would now be embarrassed that it was such a huge success, especially since they didn’t help, but I’d still rather think that we’re all in this together and rather than crying sour grapes, you’d start helping us against a common foe, rather than stroking your ego. Apparently my hopes were misplaced.

  4. REALrenovato says:

    Really, the company admitted its self, in a press release that they purchase the ingredients FROM Russia including the raw alcahol , raw alchahol = raw vodka, it is then added with water in Lithuania to bring it to the correct proof for sale and bottled there. That to me sounds like Russian produced Vodka! Wadya think?. Dont talk nonsense

  5. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    I am a native of Alabama. We had our own problems with a bigoted government, and violence/persecution against minorities. One of the most effective weapons the world had to play against us was ISOLATION and diminishment of “Brand Alabama”. When our power elites left Alabama to vacation, or when they attempted to engage the outside world in commerce, Alabama’s reputation followed them. Sometimes unfairly in certain cases. But the increasing isolation created an incentive for Alabama’s elite to act when they might not have otherwise. I have been the victim of the sweeping attack on “Brand Alabama” by others assuming that I’m a racist or that I supported the Wallace regime and who treated me as such from the start. It was unfair, but on the whole, I think that sweeping condemnation was necessary. If the world hadn’t made Alabama = Racism and condemned the entire brand, quiet moderates would have never moved towards demanding changes from within.
    I see a strong parallel with Dan’s choice of criticizing Stoli. Stoli is part of “Brand Russia”. As far as I can tell, its significant Russian operations haven’t done anything to oppose the LGBT Nuremburg Laws in a Russian context. For that reason, they are fair game. People get the government they deserve. The sweeping nature of the action should compel Russians to more forcefully stand up to affirm their LGBT community and to put more internal pressure on Kiril/Putin to stop abusing its minority.
    Look, I don’t want to take down Russia with sweeping actions. But Russia’s behavior leaves us with few options. I actually look forward to the day when I can safely visit Russia again. But so long as the pogrom continues, we will continue to throw Russia’s hateful behavior in their face every time “Brand Russia” tries to interact with Europe, Australia, New Zealand or the Americas. Russia will now have to own its violent homophobia and will have to face the consequences of that on the entire brand until they change.
    My message to Stoli…”Youre not trying anywhere near hard enough”. Its the same message that I would have to the Russian moderates. I get that there are powerful, malignant forces opposing LGBT equality in Russia. And that those powerful forces might strike back at anyone from within who dares criticize Russia’s pogrom against LGBT persons. We, after years of pleading nicely with Russia and excusing those who don’t speak up, feel that it is now necessary to create more incentive for Russians who oppose Putin/Kiril’s pogrom to speak up and act against the LGBT Nuremburg Law in Russia

  6. dolcissimo1 says:

    Dan Savage should’ve clubbed a bunch of Russian baby seals. It
    would’ve attracted attention to his cause and got people talking about the
    plight of gays in Russia. Some would say the baby seals haven’t done anything
    to deserve Dan’s animosity and are actually also victims of Putin’s persecution
    themselves, but the seals are RUSSIAN, which is more then can
    be said for Stolichnaya Vodka.

  7. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Bingo. Here’s what needs to happen on that front.
    1) A coordinated demand on European Governments to tell the Council of Europe to either suspend/expel Russia until they comply with their rules or that these countries will withdraw from it. The COE is like the League of Nations.
    2) An end to any discussions of visa free travel for Russian leaders to the EU. Believe it or not, that is pretty much issue number one in Russo-European relations, from the Russian side. Not trade, not visa free travel for its ordinary citizens, but visa free travel for its’ oligarchs.
    It would be nice if a clearinghouse be created to counter Russia’s attempts to outspend and buy off every group to get them to allow Russia to host international events, such as Maifesta (art), Formula1, and especially the World Expo (which is being bid on by two anti-Gay cities, Dubai and Yekaterinburg (a boycott should be announced of any company participating in a World Exposition of Repression, Violence, and Persecution – and pressure should be placed on governments to refuse to spend taxpayer funds to participate in such a fiasco). In fact, the World Expo could be a good example of a well placed boycott. No athletes will be harmed by not participating, in fact it would simply save the Gay and Gay supportive taxpayers of many of these nations to subsidize Russian PR.

  8. vonlmo says:

    I wonder what the responce will be when Russian ballet companies come to the USA for the annual Holiday performances.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Does it get better? Ordinary people outnumber politicians in Russia, but they aren’t able to take back their country. It’s illegal to insult a politician there! They have no freedom of assembly; their basic right to democracy is denied. The people just agree with their leaders because otherwise they’ll feel cognitive dissonance from being oppressed their whole life.

  10. REALrenovato says:

    If you would like to read more about the attack on freedom of expression and other violations you can start on this article and work your way through the UN and EHCR rulings on attacks on lgbt freedom and the false reasoning that is being employed, it made me shudder at the depth of hate. click on the read full report at the bottom of the page to get the full information


  11. pappyvet says:

    Dan’s right,the Nazis did not form anything overnight but their goals were obvious and quite out in the open. Russia as well as many in our own country need to be told, not now,not ever, never

  12. Thom Allen says:


  13. Moderator4 says:

    Sami is deleted and banned, Strepsi.

  14. tamarz says:

    I’m with you John. Dan Savage is terrific.

  15. FLL says:

    After so much bad news, finally something with a note of good will: straight Russian supporters of gay rights. It’s a seedling now, but it will grow.

  16. REALrenovato says:

    It s beyond time for the European Council (Part of the governing body which encompasses the Charter of Human Rghts and Fundamental Freedoms and the EHRCourt) to suspend Russia from voting rights and judicial appointment to the court. How many fundamental rights do they have to ignore before their privilages are withdrawn, because it is not only their persecution of gays that has taken place but a root and branch attack on the liberty and freedom of Russian citizens.
    The Vodka Boycott is doing its intended job, to bring into focus what is happening in Russia, well done Dan. We all need to keep up the pressure on European Governments and representatives including at the upcomming G20 conference and on the disaster that is looming in February @ Sochi, If you need to ring a city with armed forces and checkpoints and effectively impose martial law, that is not a place to be, to celebrate an Olympic event – move it.

  17. karmanot says:

    Dan Savage is amazing. I think of him and heroes for civil, gay and human rights as the second generation of Larry Kramers and Harvey Milks.

  18. cole3244 says:

    its too bad all groups or causes don’t have an activist/agitator like dan savage.
    the world would be a better place if they did.

  19. Strepsi says:

    Sami, really? You’re going to use the issue of people being abused in Russia for an anti-trans rant? And an anto-Dan Savage thing, despite the fact that “It Gets Better” has undoubtedly saved lives, and his call to boycott Russia may do the same? What a weird post.

    So Joe lumps in LGBT — you know who else doesn’t distinguish the trans people? Russian thugs, wno beat trans people just like they beat gay people!


  20. Sami says:

    So, John, are you now officially a member of the cult of LGBT? Saying that Savage is “one of the most powerful, and effective, advocates that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have fighting for them” is patently untrue. LGB is distinct from T. They are 2 different things. In fact, he does not claim to speak for Ts and the trans activists generally despise him for what he has said about transgender issues. In true trans activist fashion, they have stalked him and threatened him.

    Only a true ideologue could lump these together. But in that regard, Mr. Savage and his publication, The Stranger, take us to a new level of insanity. The Stranger now places gay-related articles under a banner “LGBTQITSLFA” The L refers to leather and the F refers to fetish. Thus the queer” view of gay people has now reached a near convergence with Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell and Bryan Fischer, all of whom viewed or view homosexuality as a sort of perverse, pleasure-driven fetish that can be taken up or abandoned. They have only to add a P for pedo and the convergence will be complete.

    Please don’t get on this bandwagon. I know you are sort of easily cowed and are afraid of being called names by trans activists, but at the end of the day there aren’t that many of them and it is more important to do the right thing.

  21. I meant for the Russians. Dan is great for the gay community (despite his inflated ego, but that goes with the territory); but for Russians I don’t see it getting better anytime soon, unfortunately. His advice should not be hold on it gets better but get the hell out if you can.

  22. Well, depends where. I think it’s gotten a lot better here in the US since we were kids.

  23. skwcw2001 says:

    still waiting for it to get better for me

  24. It gets better? When?

  25. usagi says:

    Talk about on point. Nicely done.

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