Some of Chicago's most popular gay bars have moved to dump one of their most popular vodkas from their shelves over anti-gay laws on the books at its country of origin.
First, Sidetrack announced via its Facebook page Wednesday evening that "starting immediately we will not sell Stoli or any other Russian products" at their bar, located in the heart of the city's Boystown neighborhood, due to the country's law banning pro-gay "propaganda." The bar went on to explain:
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.
The bar's co-owner Art Johnston explained to the Windy City Times the decision is not an effort to spark a worldwide boycott of the vodka. Instead, it was a matter of conscience, he explained. The bar also does not serve Jamaican products.
Other Chicago gay bars have joined in to take a stand against Stoli. The Call proclaimed it is "proudly serving non-Russian vodkas" going forward. As of Friday morning, at least five additional Chicago gay bars have also joined the boycott of Russian-made products. Among them are Elixir Lounge, Halsted's Bar and Grill, Hydrate Nightclub and Replay, according to DNAinfo Chicago, as well as Parlour, according to the Windy City Times.
In response to the bars' actions, Stoli-owning SPI Group CEO Val Mendeleev wrote in an open letter on Queerty they "fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia." Mendeleev further wrote the Russian government has no ownership interest in the Stoli brand and said the brand "firmly opposes such attitude and actions" as the controversial anti-gay law and heightened incidents of violence.
Prominent gay activist and author Dan Savage on Wednesday evening spoke out against Russia's anti-gay laws and increasing levels of violence targeting LGBT people and urged those wishing to "to show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies" and draw international attention to the issue to boycott Russian vodkas.
The Russian law opposing "gay propaganda" resulted in the jailing of two Dutch tourists this week. The arrests have increased scrutiny of the country ahead of its hosting of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi next February.