BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Responding to Russia’s recent anti-gay crackdown, signed into law in June by President Vladimir Putin, LGBT activists and celebrities in the United States are suggesting boycotts and protests of the upcoming Winter Olympics, Stoli vodka and Russian caviar.
“These anti-gay laws come after years of escalating attacks on gay pride events and LGBT people in Moscow and St. Petersburg,” writes columnist Dan Savage in his Slog blog. “Moscow’s city government has banned pride parades for 100 years; in St. Petersburg a small group of LGBT-rights demonstrators was attacked by a violent mob earlier this summer. These attacks are not new and they’re getting worse. Gay and lesbian Russians living in the United States are calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Games, which are taking place in the Russian city of Sochi.”
Savage, who founded the It Gets Better Project video campaign to prevent gay teen suicide, also is advocating a boycott of Russian vodka, including Russian Standard and Stolichnaya.
Stoli vodka actively courts gay consumers and is currently running a nationwide promotion, The Most Original Stoli Guy.
On Thursday, Stoli CEO Val Mendeleev posted an open letter to the LGBT community (posted below) about “the recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community.”
“I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions,” Mendeleev wrote. “Indeed, as a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry. Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend of the LGBT community.”
Friday morning, Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev wrote on Facebook he didn’t think a vodka boycott would be effective.
“To be honest I don’t see the point in boycotting the Russian vodka,” Alekseev wrote. “It will be impact anyone except a little bit the companies involved. But the effect will die out very fast, it will not last forever. And what is the aim of this boycott? The producers, even if they become bankrupt because of the boycott (which is unlikely) will not be able to influence Russian politics and President Putin. … It is only a symbolic gesture which is doomed to failure.”
Instead of a boycott, Alekseev wants the United States, United Kingdom and European Union to pressure Russian politicians.
“This is the only thing which can effectively work,” he wrote. “Pressure your governments to put the authors of those laws on the black lists for the entrance visas. They will suffer and others will think twice! Nothing else will work!”
Other American LGBT activists have also suggested boycotts of Russian caviar.
Just before Savage wrote his column, four gay Dutch tourists were arrested in Russia for violating its new gay propaganda law.
The Russian LGBT Network, an organization based in St. Petersburg, posted Wednesday on Facebook:
“On Monday the 22th, four Dutch activists – a filming crew led by Kris van den Veen from the Dutch organization “LGBT Groningen” – were supposed to face the Lenin regional court in Murmansk, Russia. They had been in Russia for about a week to film for a documentary on LGBT rights. In Murmansk, they were participating in the forum “Youth for Human Rights Camp” that took place on the 20th and 21st of July. The forum was disrupted by the police and representatives of the Russian Federal Migration Service, who raided the place to question the Dutch activists. The filming crew was detained, and police records were written against them for violating visa regulations and for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.”
Alekseev reported on Facebook Wednesday that six LGBT activists were arrested in Moscow “officially charged on the basis of the federal law banning propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors.” (See video above posted to YouTube by www.grani.ru.)
“Their cases will be considered by Zamoskvoretskiy district court of Moscow,” Alekseev posted. “They can be first to be officially fined for gay propaganda on the basis of the federal law which came into force on 30 June 2012. This will open the door to appeal the law in the Russian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights!!!”
The same day the Dutch activists were arrested, playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote in The New York Times that he supported an Olympics boycott.
“Mr. Putin signed a law allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or “pro-gay” and detain them for up to 14 days,” Fierstein wrote. Contrary to what the International Olympic Committee says, the law could mean that any Olympic athlete, trainer, reporter, family member or fan who is gay — or suspected of being gay, or just accused of being gay — can go to jail.
Fierstein, multiple Tony nominee and winner for shows including Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles, Hairspray and the current Kinky Boots, wrote that the Olympic Committee “must demand the retraction of these laws under threat of boycott.”
He compared 2013 Russia with the German Olympics in 1936, when “few participants said a word about Hitler’s campaign against the Jews.”
Out gay figure skating competitor Johnny Weir on Thursday urged that no boycott take place.
“The fact that Russia is arresting my people, and openly hating a minority and violating human rights all over the place is heartbreaking and a travesty of international proportions,” Weir told the Falls Church News-Press in Virginia. “I respect the LGBT community full heartedly, but I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games because of Russia’s stance on LGBT rights or lack thereof.”
Weir, a three-time U.S. national champion who competed in the 2006 and 2010 Olympic games, said he hopes to skate in Russia during the Sochi games Feb. 7-14, 2014.
“There isn’t a police officer or a government that, should I qualify, could keep me from competing at the Olympics,” Weir said.