23 lead Russian LGBT activists endorse boycott of Russian vodka, Olympics

Twenty-three leading gay and trans activists in Russia have endorsed the international boycott of Russian vodka that has exploded out of virtually nowhere in the past few days.

The activists also endorsed an overall boycott of Russian products, and a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in response to Russia’s recent brutal crackdown on its gay and trans citizens.

MOSCOW - MAY 28: Russian police detain a gay rights activist during an attempt to hold the unauthorized gay pride parade on May 28, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (kojoku / Shutterstock.com)

MOSCOW – MAY 28: Russian police detain a gay rights activist during an attempt to hold the unauthorized gay pride parade on May 28, 2011 in Moscow, Russia. (kojoku / Shutterstock.com)

While Russia’s official antipathy towards gay and trans people had been growing for some time, the issue became much worse in the past month when Russian authorities passed a law basically banning anything and everything perceived as “pro-gay,” including making pro-gay statement, holding a meeting of a gay organization, or even wearing rainbow suspenders.

The issue came to a head in the past week as a result of three things.

First, gay actor and Broadway star Harvey Fierstein penned a scathing op ed in the NYT, blasting Russia for it’s anti-gay actions, and warning that the world once embraced the Olympic Games in Hitler’s Germany, and how did that turn out?

Next, Buzzfeed’s Matt Stopera compiled a chilling collection of 36 photos of the brutal violence the Russian authorities have visited on the LGBT community in that country.

And finally, columnist and activist Dan Savage wrote a seminal piece for his newspaper, the Stranger, calling for a boycott of Russian vodka.  The response to Dan’s request, Matt’s photos, and Harvey’s call to action was thundering.

Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

In the first 48 hours alone, bars across the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe removed Russian vodka from their shelves.  And many more joined in over the weekend (I’ll be updating that list during the day.)

The Russian crackdown on gay and trans people has been swift, and frightening.  But gay, bi, trans people and our wonderful allies around the world are fighting back, hard.  And as a result, the international media, Russia’s vodka industry, the government of Russia, and the International Olympic Committee are finally paying attention.

The destruction of “Brand Russia” has only begun.  Stay tuned.

LuLu's in Palm Spring, California. A straight, but not narrow, establishment.

LuLu in Palm Springs, California. A straight, but not narrow, establishment.

Here’s the letter from the LGBT activists, organized by Queer Nation:

russian-lgbt-activist-boycott-1 russian-lgbt-activists-boycott-2


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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30 Responses to “23 lead Russian LGBT activists endorse boycott of Russian vodka, Olympics”

  1. feastoffun says:

    What’s also interesting to note is that according to Nikolai, these “activists” don’t actually participate in any political actions in Russia. They are just well wishers.

  2. Mike_H says:

    You have consistently refused to answer my questions, Bill, though — and I was trying to be earnest, because I do have a philosophical problem with people who insist that ONLY their way of protesting is the RIGHT way.

    You’ve failed to provide any evidence that protesting on multiple fronts in multiple ways is a bad thing.

    You have utterly failed to offer any concrete examples of why the boycott is bad or harmful — or why someone can’t support BOTH Alekseyev’s planned protest AND the boycott.

    I haven’t uttered a single “lie”, no matter what you claim. Nor have I insulted you.

    Perhaps you’ve continued to misunderstand my concerns, that is, I’m actually trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, although you are making that extremely difficult.

    In any event, since you don’t even WANT to address the pragmatic issues raised, and you haven’t provided any arguments as to why we can’t support the boycott and the Alekseyev protest, I have to conclude that you don’t actually have any good reasons for your declarations.

    It seems to me that any good movement needs many groups, many protests, many actions on many fronts, to achieve success. When one group tries to quash the actions of another group, and doesn’t provide any actual, solid reasons as to why, it IS suspicious, Bill.

    I haven’t once suggested that Alekseyev’s protest shouldn’t go forward. I hope they succeed, wildly. What I question, what I continue to question, and what you have consistently failed to respond to, is why we shouldn’t ALSO support the boycott.

    So, instead of once again falsely accusing me of lying, how about you just answer the question: how does the boycott harm Alekseyev’s planned protest during the Olympics?

  3. Bill_Perdue says:

    You claimed I was a troll, again. And further insults were added. I have to give you credit for the arrogance of pretending that people who disagree with can’t understand English. I’ve never seen that one before .

    Your only concern is to lie and engage in internet arguments. I read your comment history and it’s chiefly characterized by heated irrelevant sniping, for whatever reason and at a variety of targets, You’re not here to discuss questions, you’re here to vent.

    I dismiss you and the politics of Americans trying to decide what’s good for the Russian movement.

  4. Mike_H says:

    Again, I have in no way “dismissed” anything. A point you completely fail to address, by the way. Nor is anything you’ve said seem “pragmatic”.

    Nor have you in any way shown why we shouldn’t engage in both proposals. There’s no evidence whatsoever that doing one thing will harm the other.

    Your argument is basically that, as a revolutionary, you like the revolutionary group, and so we should only do what they say because you say so. And the boycott shouldn’t be done because they don’t want it, even though there’s no concrete argument as to what it will harm.

    And then you repeatedly mischaracterize my comments as dismissive when all I’ve been objecting to is your dismissiveness towards the boycott for not-particularly-well-supported reasons.

    It’s a very odd way you have of proving you’re not a concern troll, frankly. And if your point was to somehow refute the boycott or tell us its a bad idea, you’ve been completely unconvincing.

    Serious question: is English your first language? Because the consistent way you’ve mischaracterized my argument could be based on comprehension issues of second-language-speakers.

    Otherwise, you’re simply being insulting and utterly distorting my comments and concerns, which hardly bolsters your own arguments.

  5. Bill_Perdue says:

    Read http://aravosis.wpengine.com/2013/07/why-boycott-russian-vodka-stoli.html and read my reply to Becca below.

    I’m very pragmatic but not, like you, dismissive of the strategies of the major LGBT group in the RF.

    And I’m not a troll, repeating lies time after time.

  6. Mike_H says:

    Then you aren’t reading very carefully. I haven’t said anything about denying, preventing, or changing anyone who wants to support that. In fact, I haven’t dismissed it at all — instead I’m arguing that dismissing the *other* tactics isn’t necessary for anyone to support Alekseyev.

    I’m suggesting that there’s nothing at all wrong with people who are supporting the boycott, either.

    Both approaches have their place. You seem to want to dismiss anyone who isn’t following Alekseyev. Frankly, you’re the one who seems to want to “impose views”, rather than acknowledging that there may be many paths to the ultimate destination.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    What I’m reading is that you’re pretending tat support for the perspective of the largest, most militant and effective group in the RF is trolling and that’s why you dismiss it.

    Wrong on all counts.

  8. Mike_H says:

    “Concern trolling” is a way of undermining a cause by pretending to be concerned that a specific action or method won’t work or will backfire. It’s a way to sound sympathetic while actual not being at all sympathetic.

    And I’ll reiterate, for those who aren’t in Russia or going to be in Russia, it seems that boycotts are far more effective than doing nothing at all.

    But who says any American liberal is “imposing” on anyone? It’s not as if anyone supporting the boycott is actively trying to stop Alekseyev from doing what it wants to do as well.

    There doesn’t seem to be any logic behind NOT boycotting, whether or not Alekseyev chooses to stage some alternative actions of its own.

    Furthermore, given that apparently Alekseyev’s actions will really only work if they get media coverage (which can be controlled or denied), it doesn’t make sense to do *nothing* until the Olympics and then hope that Alekseyev’s planned protest gets enough attention to make a difference.

    These sorts of things rarely need to be an “either/or” approach, and I’m wary of anyone who suggests otherwise. True movements build successes on multiple fronts rather than relying on one event or one type of action.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    I always become concerned when people reject an idea out of hand.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    The group Alekseyev is in has thousands of activists. It’s the leading GLBT group in the RF.

    It seems to me that ‘American’ liberals should not impose their views on the Russian movement. I’m not a liberal, I’m a revolutionary and that’s why I support plans their for events at Sochi and divestment. If other things work I’ll support them too, but I don’t think that boycotting one brand of vodka cuts it.

    The RF is not Coors.

    Please explain ‘concern trolling’ and why you think I’m a troll.

  11. Mike_H says:

    So why are the two dozen activists supporting this program less important than one activist who doesn’t? His “fame”? Or that his ideas aligns with what you wanted to go along with already?

    It seems to me that the idea of having to choose “one way or the other” is the problem. And smacks of “concern-trolling”.

  12. karmanot says:

    ‘Who am I to judge them?’ It’s the same thing he said to the ruling junta when they dropped a few thousand, bound political prisoners into the sea from planes.

  13. BeccaM says:

    I always become suspicious when an activist or group says, “Do what WE say and not these other things.”

  14. karmanot says:


  15. karmanot says:

    “I wonder what he would do…” What any Nazi thug would do—–violence.

  16. karmanot says:

    Mod: A suggestion
    Somewhere to link blogs directly dealing with this subject. Inspired by AB we have done so and I’m sure others have. It might help create a wave.

  17. FLL says:

    The letter you included, John, sends a powerful message from a wide range of activists in Russia, and it also sends a plea to the West. There is nothing wrong with organizing action in Sochi in February. It would be unforgivable, however, for progressive allies in the West to sit on their hands for the next half year and do nothing. There is no substitute for a boycott of Russian products. The main goal of any boycott is to raise awareness among the public and in the media. During the last week, the immediate success of the boycott of Russian vodka in this regard is self-apparent, and the Russian activists explicitly thank their Western supporters for those efforts. Anyone who ignores this kind of success can be safely ignored.

    The Russian activists also mention a boycott of the Olympic Games themselves in their letter. This is more of a reach, and it might backfire if the public feels that a boycott would negatively affect athletes who want to compete. There may be a way around that. Start asking Western and international companies to boycott the Olympic Games. No advertising, no corporate sponsorship, etc. The course of events in Russia during the next six months is unpredictable. If the situation becomes even more violent and oppressive, no one should rule out a boycott of the countries themselves, which would mean that athletes wouldn’t compete. The only way for that to be effective, however, is for democracies to act in unison. One country alone boycotting the Olympics wouldn’t be sufficient to force the Russian government to rethink its oppressive policies. In any case, please keep in mind the plea in the letter quoted above: “We appreciate the attention of international media; we need it…Thank you for being with us in our hour of need.”

  18. Monoceros Forth says:

    I have to concede that my skepticism about this notion of a boycott on Russian vodka has been a more powerful symbol than I imagined it would be.
    I’m still rooting for Vladimir Kramnik to win Dortmund, though.

  19. Bill_Perdue says:

    We can do what ever works and doesn’t endanger our Russian sisters and brothers.

    Right now my money’s on Alekseyev’s groups plan for actions in Sochi and a divestment campaign here directed at NBC, Aeroflot and other easy to pick targets.

    As I said above principle and real world results will provide the best guide.

  20. Badgerite says:

    Wow! This is new. Apparently RRC Pope Francis said something almost, nearly, kind of tolerant and understanding of gays,in a way. . Something along the lines of, ‘Who am I to judge them?’ My thoughts exactly.

  21. Indigo says:

    When people have a realistic expectation of freedom of expression, that’s possible but clearly that’s not an option in Russia.

  22. Badgerite says:

    With respect to the Olympics, I wonder if it wouldn’t actually be a PR nightmare for Putin to be put in the position of having to arrest a lot of foreign tourists or athletes or athletes spouses at the Olympics or let them roam around being gay and all in public. Imagine if a lot of European and American gay tourists showed up. And I mean a lot. And made a very public display via t-shirts or something. His options are either let it go and let them make a statement seen around the world with the Moscow Olympics as the backdrop or make an international incident involving lots of Europeans and Americans that puts on display their thuggish laws. I wonder what he would do…

  23. BeccaM says:

    Why can’t we do both? Why is it always one or the other?

  24. Bill_Perdue says:

    As in all political questions we have to operate on principles, and in this case the principle is not to do anything to endanger our Russian brothers and sisters and on the positive side collaborating with them on the basis of their program or campaign, not ours and above all. to see what works, what does the best to defend them.

    Our role is one of support. If it turns out that boycotting US companies that do business with the IOC or the RF is our best option then I’m all for that. Cooperating with South Africans on divestment was what broke the back of the Nationalist government. I’ts a powerful tool.

  25. YesMan6 says:

    Good, the Poles invented vodka anyway. You can try:
    Belvedere Polish Vodka
    Chopin Vodka
    or the French label Grey Goose

  26. Mike_H says:

    I think if you weren’t actually planning on attending the Olympics to participate in these Russian pride protests, then boycotting the television coverage and the sponsors, as well as Russian products, makes more sense. I think there *has* to be a set of different tactics based on whether you are actually there “on the ground” in Russia, or you are overseas-but-sympathetic.

    Both kinds of tactics have their place in this fight.

  27. DCKent says:

    I also think this post should mention the other (arguably better known) activist Nikolai Alekseev and his opposition to the vodka boycott as well as his plans for Sochi Pride.

  28. GarySFBCN says:

    This is perplexing. Some of the activists are calling for a boycott of the Olympics and others say no.

    It will be more effective if we have solidarity on this.

  29. Bill_Perdue says:

    I’m with Alekseyev, who boldness on this question in borders on revolutionary.

    “It’s official! The organising committee of Moscow Gay Pride and founders of the banned Pride House Sochi decided today against the boycott of Winter Olympics in Sochi and instead to organise Winter Sochi Pride on the day of the opening of Olympic Games on 7 February 2014. Join us! It will be much more effective to draw attention to official homophobia in Russia all around the world and expose the hypocrisy of the International Olympic Committee which went into discriminatory agreements with Russian regime and of the European Court of Human Rights which still has not considered our complaint concerning the unlawful denial to register Pride House Sochi! Vive Sochi Pride 2014!” – Nikolai Alekseyev, GayRussia.eu. Via JMG

    Now the question is to watch and see what mix of tactics and strategies garners the most support among Russians and back those to the fullest extent.

  30. Indigo says:

    I’m with that.

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