An update on that Russian vodka boycott “that isn’t working”

The “Russia experts” have been busy the past week.  In column after column, from the NYT to the New Republic to Forbes (well, it is Forbes, after all), the self-proclaimed “experts” have explained to the rest of us how ineffective our boycott of Russian vodka really is.

Their man points seem to be that nothing will ever change in Russia, the Russians simply don’t what the West thinks, and in fact our efforts will be, if anything, counter-productive.

Hmm.  For people who don’t care about what we’re doing, the Russians (and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)) sure have gotten prickly of late.  And one thing I’ve learned in my decades of activism, when your target starts throwing a hissy fit, you’re winning.

From Reporters with Borders

From Reporters with Borders

As quick background: The Russians have been cracking down on gay and trans people for the past few years, and then went into overdrive this summer by passing a law banning “gay propaganda,” a law that’s so vague that it could throw people in jail simply for wearing a rainbow pin, or holding hands with their same-sex spouse.

Back to the present. While politics is often the art of reading tea leaves, with the Kremlin it’s often even tea-ier.  But here’s a snippet buried in a recent AFP story that gives me hope, and parallels with my sense of where things stand:

But behind the bluster, some believe that Russia did not expect that the law — which appears to have sprung from a “family values” campaign from conservative lawmakers worried about the declining population — would cause such an uproar.

“They had not thought this through,” said one high-ranking diplomat in Moscow, suggesting Russia has now put itself into a corner with no way to get out.

Here’s what I think happened:

1. The Russians didn’t think the law was any big deal, and didn’t expect much pushback from anyone.

2. On the contrary, Putin et. al., figured this was simply another part of their ongoing family-values crusade that they hoped would save Putin’s failed presidency by giving the public an enemy to rally against.

3. The response has, to put it lightly, caught them off guard.

4. Now the Russians are ticked, and embarrassed, and digging in.  (The pundits weren’t wrong on this last point, but anyone who thought we were going to win this in three weeks was naive.)

olympic-handcuffs-ken-kiddSo, how are we doing?

As I wrote before, the goal of this part of the campaign, the boycott of Stoli vodka, was simply to get attention.  The Russian anti-gay crackdown had been out there languishing for two years or more, and while it got the occasional mention in the press, that was it.  We needed to explode attention in the media and concern among the public.  And the vodka boycott galvanized everything.

As for Stage 1, the PR campaign: Mission accomplished.  The very fact that we have people writing in the NYT about how much we’ve “failed” proves how much we’ve already won.

So what’s in store for Stage 2?  It’s hard to say.

None of this is going away until Russia’s anti-gay law goes away.  And the fact that the Russians have dug-in means that we will continue to hold them and the IOC accountable as the Olympics approach.  And I’m not sure either the Russians or the IOC want that.  Though they may not know how to avoid it.  And that’s their problem.

One good thing about pain in politics, it’s quite good at creating opportunity where previously there was none.

This morning I quoted something Russian journalist and activist Masha Gessen, who authored a critically-acclaimed biography of Putin, said the other day: “There’s no way Russia will repeal the laws, but with pressure they might dial back the hate campaign.”

In the end, I don’t know if we can get Russia to repeal the law.  I do know that the next time Vladimir Putin, or any other anti-gay politician, company or organization, decides to take a swing of opportunity at our community, they’re going to remember the black eye we gave both Russia and the IOC over these coming months, and it’s going to make them think twice.

It’s all about the cost-benefit analysis.  And the gays just put a big pink thumb on the scale, changing the calculus everywhere, and forever.

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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108 Responses to “An update on that Russian vodka boycott “that isn’t working””

  1. patricia666 says:

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  3. andor_2001 says:

    You are so funny! I am Russian, and all that our men say is, “Let them drink piss, they are pussies anyway. Only real man drinks real vodka.”
    Don’t pull your hair in your hysterics. Nobody even remember that you were “boycotting” our vodka. It is bottled outside of Russia, it doesn’t belong to Russia, Russia gets very little profit from it.
    Here is an article about gays in Russia. Maybe you can learn a bit about my country.

  4. I don’t say America has its hands clean on all fronts, but that is a topic for another debate.

    Two wrongs do not make a right.

    What I do say, is that Putin has declared gay people to be a danger to children and that children need state protection from us. No corroborative evidence was ever adduced to the Duma to support its legislation effectively recriminalising homosexuality.

    This smacks of arrant hypocrisy, coming from a president who authorised the genocide of tens of thousands of children.

  5. ANTI/SHEEPLE says:

    Derek Williams, honey.. what do you know about the war in Chechenia? The victims in this war can not be compared to even 10% of what U.S. Did to women and children in Vietnam, Japan, Yugoslavia…You sponsored the destruction in Libya. Now you want to turn Syria into the same ruins. The aren’t that many countries left where the Americans haven’t left their bloody trails. How can a country of murderers even open it’s blood sucking mouth talking about Russian crimes and sins? Clean up your world devouring mess first.

  6. Ferdiad says:

    John, you are dead on with this. The boycott is working and should be expanded. You are exactly right that when there seems to be a coordinated campaign in the media about an issue, then there is in fact coordination. That means that somebody is working to get a message out and here it is likely that they are trying to get you to stop. This doesn’t just mean the Russians. Remember that there are groups of people tied to the owners of Stoli and there are business interests that import Stoli and market for Stoli and other downstream items. They don’t like this and are working to stop you. I say keep it up, follow the money, and expand.

  7. Butch1 says:

    They wish to go even further by going after gays and their families that have children and force separating them from their children. This was brought up on the Chris Hayes program by his guest speaker who was a Russian lesbian activist. It was a main reason she left Russia and moved to New York City.

  8. K¥£€ says:

    Mmm man points.

  9. Guest says:

    If you really want to annoy a Russian with your vodka preference, you can drink Finlandia to remind them that the Soviets – after conveniently “sharing” Poland with Nazi Germany – tried to invade Finland with overwhelming force but the glorious Red Army failed miserably (

  10. David Liberman says:

    First, let me state, I am against hate and am for equality. I support LGBT rights across the board. That being said, I think the boycott of vodka is pointless. Here is why…

    Attacking Russian Vodka for the evil acts of the Russian Government is like attacking Auto Parts Manufacturers for the evil acts of Big Oil Corporations. As much as Chevron could care less what Firestone Tires thinks, I am sure that Putin could give a rat’s ass what Stolichnaya thinks.

    Yes, I am sure Putin has heard about the boycott. I am also sure he laughed at it. Putin cares about staying in power and similar to this country and many other countries, quite often the religious right is the pathway to that power. Vodka is not. Vodka companies do not wield that kind of power.

    If the point is to make a symbolic attack against Russia, LGBT communities around the world should spend their energy getting their own governments to boycott the Olympics. If the US alone boycotts the Olympics it would come off as a political response to Snowden, but if every major Western country (France, England, Germany, Canada, USA, Australia, Sweden, etc etc) boycotted the Olympics, then the voice of LGBT people around the world would be heard. THIS WILL HURT PUTIN. Vodka will not.

    I appreciate the energy and gusto for this fight, I just feel it needs to be redirected.

  11. I read it first today in the NYT. Well done.

  12. And you wouldn’t have heard about the violence had we not created an environment in which everyone is hyper sensitive to this issue. The violence didn’t start in the past 3 weeks. Those videos of them kidnapping gay guys have been around for a year. It’s not just a coincidence that all of these news stories have suddenly come up in the past 3 weeks :)

    This is how these campaigns work. The insane news coverage we got the past few weeks didn’t just materialize by coincidence. A few coincidences happened – Fierstein piece, Matt S at Buzzfeed with the 36 nasty photos, and Dan Savage calling a boycott – then a lot of us massaged this story for weeks to get it to where it is today.

    It’s look organic, and in part it is, but it’s also part massaged and directed and fed by a lot of people, myself included.

  13. 07rescue says:

    Here are the letters to the editor responding to that awful NY Times op ed on how the Stoli boycott “won’t help”. I’m happy to say my letter leads, simply stating the obvious: now the anti LGBT hate in Russia is big news.

    To the Editor:

    Re “Boycotting Vodka Won’t Help Russia’s Gays,” by Mark Lawrence Schrad (Op-Ed, Aug. 21):

    Before the Stolichnaya vodka boycott, the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Russians went unnoticed. Afterward, it became front-page news, as images of people pouring vodka into the streets went viral; government leaders condemned Russia’s new discriminatory laws, and celebrities commanding huge audiences debated boycotting or even stripping Russia of the glory of playing host to the Olympics in Sochi.

    Our goal should be to help not only Russian gay people but all people suffering from human rights violations. Boycotts and other actions that heighten awareness of such abuses are a success.

    Our long-term goal should be to raise the standards of human rights, inclusive of L.G.B.T. people, using the tremendous opportunity before us with the coming Sochi Olympics, to let the world know that human rights violations are a stain on a country’s honor, disqualifying it from economic investment, prestige and the moral authority that entitles a country to respect for its national interests.

    Let other countries contemplating using gay people or others as political scapegoats beware. The world will shun you.

    New York, Aug. 21, 2013

  14. Bill_Perdue says:

    Napoleon, Bismarck and others cracked down on gays and or abortion to have more babies who’d grow up to become cannon fodder. The infamous anti-gay paragraph 175 and paragraph 218, which criminalized abortions, were part of Bismarcks basic law in 1871 as Germany unified. Forty nine years later when the Armistice was signed in 1918 Germany’s war dead stood at 2,476,8973 with the wounded totaled a further 4,247,143.

    That was one of the right wing Democrat and Republican parties reasons for supporting Bill Clintons DOMA and for opposing the absolute right of women to a federally funded abortion on demand irrespective of age and without parental notification.

  15. Bill_Perdue says:

    Boycott NBC/MSNBC/Comcast.

  16. Bill_Perdue says:

    Boycott and divest from NBC, Coke and the others.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    They should be down on the Putin regime, not Russia and not all Russians.

  18. Bill_Perdue says:

    The real origins of the August 19th march in Denmark are the vibrant GLBT communities there. Organizers had expected a turnout of about 5,000 but it swelled to 14,000 as it progressed.

    In addition, on August 15th, Der Spiegel reported that the Danish government is taking a hard line with the Putin regime. From Spiegel Online – “The Danish government is to take diplomatic steps to highlight and criticise Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda law … “The law is objectionable. It risks fostering discrimination and the abuse of minorities in Russian society – something we have already seen examples of, and to which the law gives the stamp of approval. We will hold Russia to its international obligations,” says Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal, adding Denmark will raise the issue at the European Council in September, and possibly also at the United Nations and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “–crown-prince-react-to-russian-gay-law/

  19. Bill_Perdue says:

    99.99% of the media are owned by the rich. All 1%ers are right wing.

    I wouldn’t use Obama’s election as an example because it was based on media lies by the rich in 2008 and they split in 2012. In any case now we have

  20. Bill_Perdue says:

    It was, at best, a vehicle for organizing opposition to the Putin regime’s bigotry but not we have to devise ways to aid our Russian brothers and sisters with more than words. One way to do that is to call for boycotts and divestments of NBC, Coke, McDonalds and the rest.

  21. Bill_Perdue says:

    What’s next is opposing the police regime in Russia and it’s American partners like NBC-Comcast-MSNBC, Coke, McDonalds and pushing for our own agenda – free Chelsea Manning, pass ENDA, repeal section two of Democrat Bill Clintons’ federal DOMA and Republican Bush’s 31 state DOMAs and pass ENDA or a CRA, a goal both parties have opposed (in action, all politicians lie all the time they’re awake) for decades.

  22. Bill_Perdue says:

    Suggestions – NBC-Comcast-MSNBC in spite of the fact that they’re the Democrats version of the Republicans Fox.

  23. Bill_Perdue says:

    Good post.

    The efforts of the American LGBT communities should be organized to accomplish two things.

    The first is to give aid and assistance to our Russian brothers and sisters in their defiant plans to be at Sochi – out and proud. Everything else we do is secondary to that.

    We can, as you suggested, have a big impact calling for boycotts and divestment from homophobic American companies doing business with the IOC and the Putin Regime starting with NBC/Comcast/MSNBC and including all the American companies you mentioned.

    The second is to use the rancid anti-GLBT campaigns of the Putin police state regime to expose the equally rancid bigotry of the Democrats and Republicans who, after decades of demonstrations and mass actions continue to refuse to pass ENDA or repeal section two of Democrat Bill Clintons DOMA, which had and has near total Republican support. And to join our efforts with those of women, people of color, civil libertarians and the growing left in the workers movement to oppose the Obama regimes police state building actions.

    I disagree with the use of the fascist moniker unless you’re describing real fascist nations. Fascism always involves the creation of police states, but most police states aren’t fascist.

    Free Chelsea Manning

    Boycott and divest from NB/Comcast/MSNBC

  24. BeccaM says:

    Of course it’s a lie. And doubly-so because LGBTs are not a danger to children. Knowing gay people exist doesn’t turn a person gay.

  25. usagi says:

    That’s why they’re difficult. If you don’t already know something is a Coke brand, it doesn’t hurt their primary brand recognition.

  26. usagi says:

    Then we need to start buy-cotting them. And Halloween is right around the corner, too. Do you have a press release or news link?

  27. texcynical says:

    When the masses start getting restless, an enemy ALWAYS has to be manufactured. You know — gays, immigrants, terrorists, liberals, jews…. You get the idea.

  28. It’s also to buy the Russian Orthodox Church votes, and to eliminate LGBT intellectuals from political respectability and relevance. Putin’s regime murdered hundreds of thousands of civilian children in Chechnya, so this “protection of children” palaver is as mendacious as it is evil.

  29. Putin’s war against LGBT and his attempt to erase us from social acceptability and political relevance was never about the “protection of children”. How could it be? He personally authorised the genocide of over 200,000 Chechnyans, half of whom are children. In terms of being “a danger to children”, our alleged “Homosexual propaganda” doesn’t come close to Putin’s genocidal infanticide.

    Putin is blatantly and shamelessly buying the vote of the Russian Orthodox Church parishioners, who can be relied upon to hate gays, witness their priests leading and joining in the pogroms where crowds numbering tens of thousands bash tiny gatherings of LGBT to within an inch of their lives.

    Another motivation for Putin’s elimination LGBT from Russia is that like Jewish organisations, LGBT are driven by intellectuals with humanist and politically egalitarian principles, always a threat to a totalitarian regime, like those of Stalin and Hitler.

    If Putin is allowed to imprison all gay people then over time, he will be able to wreak an economic miracle by using gays as slave labour. When you think about the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, this isn’t as far fetched as it sounds.

    With his unassailable grip on power, and annihilation of his political and commercial opponents, Putin can now do whatever he wants. That is, unless the people turn against him. Clearly, given the unanimous Duma vote to recriminalise homosexuality, Putin’s one party state is never going to repeal this law. The only way forward is to convince ordinary Russians to repeal Putin. That won’t happen overnight, but it certainly won’t happen if we do nothing, as advocated by those who criticise boycotts, but don’t have any other bright ideas.

  30. I don’t agree that the boycott is solely responsible for the Explosion. That’s where we differ. You’re not hearing that though.

  31. I don’t disagree with you.

  32. I’m not redefining I just don’t see how the boycott helped. I do expect the US to threaten to boycott in 3 weeks when citizens lives are in danger. So yes. I’m pissed and surprised the idea hasn’t gained more traction.

  33. Naja pallida says:

    Mmm mmm mmm, Fanta. The fruity flavor of the Third Reich.

    I’m stunned that people actually drink chemical swill like Vitamin Water and Powerade.

  34. I see what you’re saying and I get what the actual goal is. But I don’t agree. I think people are talking about Gays in Russia not because of the boycott but because of the violence. I believe that had the boycott not been started your mom would still be talking about the conflict. That’s just how I see it, but you know how the media works better than me. So I’ll just take your word for it.

  35. Crazyfroggie says:

    I believe Cadbury has withdrawn its sponsorship.

  36. bniemic says:

    Yes, success to date — thanks to you & other activists like you, John.

  37. nicho says:

    I believe you that this was about raising awareness. But it wasn’t that people were actually boycotting Russian vodka. A handful were, but it was hardly pervasive. I’ve been traveling recently and have visited a number of gay bars. Almost all of them had Russian vodka available. That’s hardly a successful boycott. What got attention were publicized photos of bar and restaurant owners pouring water from vodka bottles into the street. So technically, it was more of a PR photo op, rather than a boycott. As such, it had an effect, but the number of bars etc. “boycotting,” at least in my experience, was minuscule.

  38. chris10858 says:

    I think John is on the money for sure in this article. I remember how bad it got here in the US for gay people back in the 80s and then again right after George W. got elected with anti-marriage amendments passing throughout the country in various states. Within only a few years, our side has been able to force the pendulum back and there is now a majority of Americans who believe in marriage equality for gay people.

    I think we can help foster a similar change in Russia. Although I’ve read repeatedly in articles about Russians opposing something simply as it’s considered from the west or American, I also believe that there are millions of Russian teens and young people who watch all the American movies and listen to people like Lady GaGa and follow her tweets and such. If we can get those young people to become active politically in their country, just as many became active here around Obama’s 2008 campaign, I think we can see a big improvement in Russia.

  39. StraightGrandmother says:

    you did a hell of a good job and STILL are.
    I always believed the vodka boycott would work. Right from the beginning. Kevin from Arcus Foundation was tweeting out for a boycott a couple weeks prior to Savage. And I re-tweeted him. See I always believed. We won and we are winning. Will we get everything we dream of, no, but we will keep the damned spotlight on those evil Russians and the AMERICANS who are behind this anti gay shit in Russia. It tracks right back to America and American right wing christian groups.

    Even this NEW focus on a declining population in Russia, that can directly be tracked back to AMERICANS. The catholics convinced the Russians that they need to breed more Russian Orthodox families because the Russian Muslims are out breeding them. It is a CATHOLIC initiative in Russia. It is documented.

  40. Anonymous says:

    13,000 in Copenhagen :)

  41. Anonymous says:

    Coke isn’t difficult because they own so many brands

  42. StraightGrandmother says:

    and TEN THOUSAND people marched in Denmark against theRussians.

  43. usagi says:

    I don’t know that “taking them down” is necessary. I think that making clear what they’re associating their brand with all that’s really necessary. Olympics = money. Being the official Olympic ______ = building brand identity. Being the official sponsor of Russian gay bashing = the sort of headache no Marketing Director would wish on an enemy.

    Right now the calculus is that being the official Olympic brand nets you good publicity. Look at the official sponsor list and see who’s most vulnerable to having their brand damaged by associating it with Russian gay bashing. Keep it laser focused as the Russian vodka boycott has been (that’s why it needs to be a brand with a small range of categories: Volkswagen makes one thing, cars–if they do make anything else, no one’s heard of it, and it’s not like they have an apparel line that’s 30% of their profit). Once being associated with the Stoli Olympics becomes a brand liability, they’ll want leave on their own. Even if you don’t get them to pull out (and with the correct product, I think it’s possible), as you say above, showing the next sponsor how much making a bad choice about supporting gay bashing can hurt you is a good thing to have in the next cost-benefit analysis (a Russian victory enforcing their treasured gay propaganda law becomes a bit Pyrrhic if they can never book another major sporting event after the ones currently in the pipeline happen).

  44. Strepsi says:

    Well, except for the usual suspect.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Thank you! Here’s one example I gleaned:

    “The head of Russia’s central bank said in an interview that nearly $50 billion was transferred out of Russia illegally in 2012, a sum equivalent to about 2.5 percent of gross domestic product.”

  46. BeccaM says:

    I considered turning it into a post, but it seemed a little thin as a single-sourced comment-on-an-editorial. I may reconsider if I can find more analyses as nuanced as this one was.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Sadly, I think Putin hit his target with gays. Pussy Riot didn’t distract enough; it made him look like the bad guy. What kind of jerk jails young mothers, after all? It completely backfired. The new tactic of targeting gays worked because even the wingnuts here support it. Putin needed a boogeyman to look worse than him. Unfortunately people are ignorant enough to make gays the boogeyman.

    I feel like Putin is seen as a hero again by people he successfully duped, and that’s all kinds of wrong. It harks back to despots of the 20th century.

  48. Yep, saw it earlier, it’s a brilliant piece.

  49. yes, yes, yes. I didn’t write a separate post about him, Miller, but it goes to a much larger issue of empowerment of individuals across the globe, that is huge.

  50. Well, since the boycott caused the explosion we’ll never know if something else would have caused it, yes, that’s true. But you know, that’s a bit glass-half emptyish IMHO :)

  51. Why do you keep redefining the goal of this protest? It hasn’t met your goals, apparently :) But it’s met ours :) I’m not sure what you expected to happen. You expected the US to decide to boycott the Olympics in 3 weeks? Or the IOC to decide to move them in just 3 weeks? That’s not going to happen. At least not in only 3 weeks of organizing. As for the end of your comment, you’re arguing whether the war is won and I’m arguing that the battle is won, and the war has just begun. Apples and oranges, baby :)

  52. inlookout says:

    As to whether or not they are “pro-gay” that would depend on your criteria but they are certainly a long way from being anti-gay or ambivalent toward the LGBT community. By the way, the SPI Group’s U.S. office does have an anti-discrimination policy and offers domestic partnership benefits. I can’t speak to other countries where SPI Group is located, where the laws are different and whether or not such policies are mandated, encouraged, needed, or perhaps even illegal. I would also hesitate to apply this as a litmus test on companies as it would by hypocritical not to act on them. And no I can’t come up with another target off the top of my head. But just because I don’t have a knee-jerk response doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. And John there’s no need to go on the defense and attack me. We all want the same thing.

  53. BeccaM says:

    Yes, that was rather telling, too.

  54. But ask people if they heard about some controversy involving Russia and gay people :) It came on TV when I was in the hospital visiting my father and my mother said, oh watch this, i don’t know if you’ve heard, but this has been all over the news… LOL She had no idea I was involved :) You have to remember, that just because something is all over the news and there’s a media feeding frenzy does not mean that the entire country is aware of it. And again, I don’t care if the entire country aware, since educating 300m people isn’t my goal. I need to get the media on my side, and convince a core group of people, worldwide, that this is a problem, and outrage, and then the thing starts to feed itself. We didn’t need your straight friends knowing about this in order to get Obama to speak out :) So again, it always comes back to ‘what is the ACTUAL goal” of the action. And very often, the goal isn’t what you think it is.

  55. Anonymous says:

    Don’t forget that they are also going after blasphemers (like Pussy Riot) and dissidents. He wants to protect his ignorant base from opposition.

  56. Bingo. I wanted people talking about Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, not vodka – and they are :)

  57. And then the question is what do you do with that. But any good campaign has to have an excellent PR component in order to galvanize the public, the grassroots, the media, governments, and to pressure on your target, and then all of that feeds itself.

  58. And to some degree, educating people about how dangerous Russia is now is most certainly hurting tourism, or will hurt tourism.

  59. Don’t disagree. But we’re going to need a great campaign to take down a sponsor.

  60. Hmmm…. actually the western media coverage, especially in the US, has been nothing short of stellar on this issue. On the left we like to gripe about the American media, but in fact, they’re often quite good. And on this, they’ve been amazing.

  61. BeccaM says:

    There’s an interesting article over in Buzzfeed by Miriam Elder in which she explores “Why Russia turned against the gays.” The question being, why gays and not some other group? I don’t agree with everything she posits, but some do make sense.

    The first is as Strepsi says below, that the Russians are freaking out over their plummeting birth rates and population drops.

    Another is simply the need to find a convenient scapegoat for populist rabble-rousing and gays and lesbians are ‘alien’ enough to most Russians, so LGBTs fit the bill.

    As to why not Russian Jews, she says it’s because Putin had Jewish friends as a kid, but I’m not buying it. Anti-Semitism in Russia is alive and well, but they really don’t have all that many Jews left, the bulk of them having emigrated over the last half century. And besides, overt anti-Semitism annoys the conservatives and radical right in other countries, whereas regressives everywhere love the gay-bashing.

    Still another angle is LGBTs have, through clever media manipulation, been melded in the Russian public mind as a something that “comes from the West.” This helps turn the entire LGBT civil rights issue on its head and become instead a symbol of Russia standing firm against outside influences — which plays right into their culturally ingrained xenophobia.

    And finally, by going anti-gay, Putin and his government court Russia’s far right and, most importantly, the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been promoting rabidly homophobic rhetoric for decades now.

    I like the closing remark:

    “I think the most ridiculous questions come up during the decay of an empire,” said Anton Krasovsky, a prominent Russian journalist recently fired for being gay, when asked why the “gay question” had suddenly emerged in Russia. “It’s like when Judeo-Christians were fed to the lions in third-century Rome — it’s just the sunset of the empire.”

  62. I’m happy to. Just need the time :)

  63. Correct, that’s in a number of the articles. And how weird.

  64. Anonymous says:

    These are just some of the brands owned by Coke! Boycott them all.

  65. Strepsi says:

    I agree, and I agree with the article that at least it gave a symbolic talking point to rally around. Because I would add that Europe was already sick of the Russian oppression — the Pussy Riot arrests were MUCH more serious across Northern Europe, getting politicians involved even.

    Those Northern European countries are ALSO the top LGBT equality countries, and the top Winter Olympics countries!

    Now everyone is really down on Russia…. good.

  66. themainone says:

    There should be a vote to boycott from a country or getting a sponsor like Coke to quite.

  67. Anonymous says:

    Maybe if Putin & co. stopped stealing from the public coffers, people would stop blaming gays. People can’t have kids because they are POOR. I appeal to John Aravosis to cover the financial scandals going on in Russia. If people know what’s truly going on with their fraud and corruption, they’ll stop blaming gays.

    Wikipedia is completely useless in revealing the corruption and problems in Russia. We will have to do our own research.

  68. Anonymous says:

    Just because the media says a boycott of NBC/Russian exports won’t do *something* doesn’t make it true. Many news outlets are owned by right wing 1%ers. These are the same people that told us Obama wouldn’t be elected. Once people went out and voted anyway, he won in a landslide.

  69. Strepsi says:

    @ John Aravosis — great article, but in your list of “what happened” I genuinely think there was a sense (however wrong and illogical) that promoting heterosexuality would increase the population. Russia has lost 7 MILLION people from its total population in the last decade!

    The argument (again, both wrong and illogical, but still an argument I see every single day in North America too) is that homosexual people are a demographic dead end as we “cannot reproduce”. As a correllary to encouraging straights to procreate, we must also clamp down on non-productive members of society to strengthen and increase the motherland.

    It’s a horrible nexus of idiot natural science, religious fervor, and nationalism.

  70. Anonymous says:

    It didn’t do much to stop money flowing to Russia. However, it did open the narrative…it gave us a slogan, a media event, much like Occupy Wall Street

  71. Anonymous says:

    Are these “experts” NBC, FOX, CNN, the IOC, and the other liars trying to perpetuate the right wing/corporate narrative? Kind of like the “news” outlets paid to tell us Obama would never win… No wonder the founder of gay pride Russia won’t talk to the American media. He says the media coverage in the US is a sham.

  72. XKCD says:

    It’s pretty ignorant of history when people try to argue because there hasn’t been huge progress in a few weeks, so the movement is doomed to fade and fail and nothing will happen. Even though history tends to whitewash things, there hasn’t been a major movement throughout history that hasn’t had setbacks when it first began. Name to me a movement where people didn’t say in the beginning “this is ridiculous, what are they talking about? There isn’t support for this, it’s only a pipe dream”.

    Remember when Prop 8 passed in 2008? In California, one of the most liberal states in the U.S? I remember how much international support from gay marriage supporters in other countries meant to the American gay community back then when we were so demoralized. The U.S needs to keep showing support for LGBT Russians until they at the very least begin to be treated humanely, because even just knowing that millions of people have your back is meaningful in itself.

  73. usagi says:

    The next step is to have an official sponsor of the Olympics withdraw (Volkeswagon remains the softest target in my opinion mostly because so much of why people select a car is bound up in emotion and their brand is fairly narrow–Coke or Visa would be too difficult). And it’s a two-fer. Once a sponsor in one class withdraws, who in their right mind is going to step into the “Oh, so you’re an anti-gay bigot brand then?” void.

  74. I’m basing this off my own experience. Every gay person I talked to thought the boycott was dumb (I didn’t think it was dumb, but thought it was the wrong approach) and every straight person I talked to didn’t even know about it. So I’m using my life as a litmus test for this, which I’ll admit isn’t the move diverse survey, but I’m also not trying to prove anyone wrong – just tell you what I think.

    For the record, the buzzfeed piece did way more than the boycott IMHO. All my straight friends talk about the violence much more than the boycott (if they even knew it was going on).

  75. cole3244 says:

    me thinks the experts doth protest too much, or something like that.

  76. Brad says:

    Next steps need to include a boycott of Russian tourism. Celebrities included. No visits to Russia. Supporting their economy is supporting the government, and while it may be argued that it also hurts gay Russians, I think the effect on the government and its world image is more important. Also…Praise companies that voice an anti-Russian opinion regarding their treatment of gay citizens, and write to companies that continue to advertise the market there. And, of course, let our concerns be known to the U.S. and other world governments. Silence is dangerous.

  77. FLL says:

    The vodka boycott, which Fierstein and Savage initiated, was only a media attention getter, and it served its purpose. No, you don’t hear as much about the vodka boycott because media and world attention has shifted to all the problems for the Sochi Olympics posed by Russia’s anti-gay law. That’s the more important issue at the moment. So the vodka boycott may or may not have outlived its usefulness. So what? It started the chain reaction which gets us where we are now, which was reported in the Copenhagen Post yesterday. 10,000 people took to the streets and demonstrated (on a Wednesday!) to protest Russia’s anti-gay law. 10,000! Here is the newspaper article:

    And here are videos:

  78. Max_1 says:

    I’m confused…
    … Don’t make noise until there’s action?

    That’s kinda like telling Rosa to sit down in the back of the bus and STFU until laws are passed…

  79. Max_1 says:

    Boycott Olympic sponsors!

  80. lars says:

    I’d say the next step is to pressure the corporate sponsors…

  81. There were many catalysts. I’m just not convinced that if the boycott didn’t happen, that we wouldn’t be where we are today. That said, it certainly didn’t hurt.

  82. I get what you are saying, I just personally don’t think it was effective as you think it was. That said, I could be wrong – just my opinion.

  83. There has been a lot of communication with the IOC and Russia over this topic. And a Google search of “gay and Russia” produces a lot, but there’s nothing definitive about boycotting the Olympics or moving them. Until that happens, I don’t consider anything a success because under their law, we’ll be putting our athlete’s in harms way if we send them to Russia. So there’s been noise but no action.

  84. Hue-Man says:

    “Success breeds success.” Since the Winter Olympics are less than 6 months away, there is a world of opportunity for LGBT activists to map out a strategy for other organizations and countries. There are so many important issues domestically and internationally and, statistically, such a small number of LGBT people to get involved.

    I must admit that I would never have predicted Wentworth Miller’s letter to the St. Petersburg Film Festival. (I chose this link to reinforce what you pointed out. The National Post is Canada’s WSJ, a hard-right business oriented national newspaper writing about an out gay actor protesting Russia’s gay-hating propaganda laws! Russian businessmen are being quizzed about these laws in board rooms around the world.)

  85. Actually it was the catalyst. Without it there was nothing. Three things happened: Fierstein wrote his piece for the NYT; Matt S published those horrific 36 photos in Buzzfeed; and Dan Savage called for the boycott. The first two got things heated, and Savage set it on fire. Then lots of things happened and lots of people got involved. But the straw that broke the camel’s back were those three incidents with savage finally pushing it over the edge.

  86. Stoli didn’t even include gay or trans people in their non discrimination policy. And zero partner benefits. Tell me again about how pro gay they were.

    As for another easier target: Name one. Go on.

  87. Actually, boycotts are only about economics when they’re about economics. As I’ve already explained, that’s was never the goal. The initial goal was to out this issue in the map. I’m not sure why you don’t believe me.

  88. Have to disagree. The Russians writing to the IOC today, the IOC being forced to out out a statement, and AP covering it are not nothing. Do a google news search on gay and russia. Then tell me there’s no more overage :-)

  89. Indigo says:

    Not to Putin’s face, they didn’t.

  90. Yes, it certainly helped in bringing awareness but it wasn’t the only thing that brought awareness to the table. Although, in theory, I do think it was a good idea.

  91. Indigo says:

    I love it when a plan comes together and it’s suddenly magic. Everybody’s down on the Russians now. It’s a battle of perceptions and vodka boycotting was just another gesture, the one that caught fire. Suddenly, the Russian bear is foaming at the mouth! That’s magic for you.

  92. nicho says:

    I agree. It got attention — and that’s good — but it didn’t bring Russia to its knees. So as a PR maneuver it was good. As an economic measure — which is what boycotts are about — not so much.

  93. Hue-Man says:

    Suggestions? Pouring vodka in the streets makes good video just like the French egg producers dumping thousands of eggs in town squares.

    Aeroflot, caviar, Russian dolls, Bolshoi, ActUp-type demonstrations at Russian Orthodox churches. Not so much.

    I imagine Stoli will recover from its ‘alienation’, presumably because selling vodka to gay bars is good business (while telling Putin to stop murdering LGBT people is not).

  94. karmanot says:


  95. karmanot says:

    Thank you concern troll

  96. inlookout says:

    Yeah. But Stoli got all the negative press.

  97. NCMan says:

    I agree. I just tire of the naysayers who claim we were just targeting the gay-friendly Stoli company that has been such a friend of the community. Stoli wasn’t targeted. All Russian vodkas are being targeted.

  98. inlookout says:

    John, I never criticized you. If anything I’m glad someone owned up to what this truly was. I’ve read and engaged with so many individuals who have jumped through hoops trying to justify the boycott outside of “simply getting attention.” But I continue to believe we could have picked a more deserving target and achieved the same ends without alienating a company that had partnered with us so many times in the past.

  99. No offense, but I don’t think the boycott really worked. It may have gotten a few more people talking about it than otherwise would have, but now I hear nothing about it. I think it was just the ridiculousness of it all that got people noticing it.

    I also disagree with point 1. The Russians are clamoring for attention. They knew they were pushing people’s buttons and they are happy to do so. They’re getting exactly want they want: attention.

  100. And, regardless, it worked, bizarrely so. The world is now talking about Russia’s crackdown, and we have the US president, and governments around the world, weighing in, when before there was nothing. It’s beyond question at this point that it worked. The question now is what’s next. But this constant rehashing from the woe-is-me brigade is seriously tiresome.

  101. NCMan says:

    Please remember this was NEVER a Stoli boycott. It is a RUSSIAN VODKA boycott. ALL brands of Russian vodka are being boycotted.

  102. clarknt67 says:

    “if you want to impact Russian economy” This wasn’t the point of the vodka boycott, and appropriately so. Anyone who thinks any tactic or strategy will have a serious impact on the Russian economy is delusional.

  103. The nature of effective politics and activism is having an attention span that’s longer than the lifespan of a fruit fly. You don’t start these campaigns planning to win in 3 weeks. Those who do, lose. So, I don’t honestly care about what you just posted, if you’re suggesting that, working from our living rooms with zero budget, we haven’t destroyed the entire Russian economy in 21 days. We’re good, but we’re not that good. None of those additional goals you seem to list could be accomplished if you don’t first get the attention of the media and the ire of the public. It doesn’t help if you tell people to target Coke or P&G when the media doesn’t care, and the public doesn’t care. First you get them to care, then you redirect their attention.

    What I think is that you’re pissed off at someone about something, and that it has nothing to do with Russia, the gays, or this campaign. I also think you’ve never worked with people who have actually accomplished anything, so you’re not able to recognize something when it works, but you’re also not willing to believe something can work, because you’ve never seen it work. Well, now you have.

    So drop the attitude and join us. We can use the help. The attitude, not so much. :)

  104. Hi. Where in the story does it say that Stoli wasn’t a meritorious target? That’s right it doesn’t. What I said was, and have said before, is that the goal was not to destroy Stoli, or cost Stoli x amount of dollars. The goal was to use the vodka boycott to galvanize world opinion and get the attention of the media. And it’s worked. Regular readers know that I really don’t appreciate being criticized for things I never wrote. It’s intellectually sloppy, in addition to not very helpful.

  105. inlookout says:

    I’m so glad we’ve cleared this up now. Stoli was targeted simply to get attention. And by all means it worked. But they were never really guilty of anything, were they? Just a friend of our community that happened to be a convenient target.

  106. QueeRevolutionary says:

    What do you think is working when

    Sberbank, Visa and Russian Olympic Committee Present “Olympic Team” Visa Classic Card

    2. Coca-Cola opens $120 mln beverage plant in south Russia for 2014 Olympics

    3. Proctor & Gamble has a factory in Russia and look at their Russian web page

    4. And if you want to impact Russian economy, not getting drunk on Stoli won’t matter but this might and this might

    5. IOC is run by gay bashing thugs representing countries with even more fascist genocidal laws including
    Saudi Arabia
    United Arab Emirates

    So if you think Russia or the IOC cares you are misguided and naive.

  107. Guest says:

    I was looking forward to sharing this article with friends who are also saying the Russian Boycott isn’t working, but I would prefer to share a well-written article. This one, sadly, has too many typos, uncomfortable structure, and not enough sources.

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