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Think First, Act Second to Support LGBT Equality in Russia

By organizing international condemnation of Putin's anti-LGBT policies and other human rights abuses, we could impact Russia and deter other leaders from considering a similar path.
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With the ubiquitous presence of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in our lives, our community has become adept at quickly responding to attacks on our rights and freedoms.

After it was revealed that Target had made significant donations to a PAC that was funding anti-LGBT legislators, and the president of Chick-fil-A spoke out against our freedom to marry, the reaction from our community was swift... and creative. People, for example, posted and tweeted pictures of Target credit cards cut into pieces and of same-sex couples kissing in front of Chik-fil-A restaurants. Some responses were more effective than others. But in these days of ever-present social media and instantaneous response, it can be important to do our homework before we act. And when our actions relate to matters beyond our borders, we would be well advised to ensure that our tactics are actually helpful to our LGBT brothers and sisters in those countries.

Unfortunately, neither has been the case lately with much of the reaction to the appalling human rights abuses by Russian officials against LGBT people and our allies. I'm thinking in particular about promoting boycotts of Stolichnaya vodka and the 2014 Winter Olympics (to be held in Russia).

The Stoli boycott is the most obviously misguided. First, the company that makes Stoli isn't based in Russia and the vodka hasn't been made there for more than a decade. It's made in Latvia, which is part of the European Union. The owner moved it out of Russia precisely because of his opposition to President Vladimir Putin and the values of his party. In addition, the company that owns Stoli -- and is based in Luxembourg -- has stated publicly that it stands "strong and proud" with the global LGBT community "against the attitude and actions of the Russian government."

Clearly, not only does boycotting Stoli hurt a company that actually supports us, but it has about as much impact on Putin's policies as boycotting borscht!

Most important of all, many Russian LGBT leaders -- and LGBT activists in Latvia -- have advised that boycotting Stoli is NOT helpful. They've said the same thing about an Olympics boycott, as they believe the Games may offer an unprecedented opportunity to impact public opinion among a Russian populace that overwhelmingly opposes LGBT rights.

Calls to boycott Stoli and the Olympics can attract media attention or capture the popular LGBT community's imagination. But ideas that appeal at first glance to many of us in the U.S. may not actually advance the cause of LGBT equality in Russia. In fact, they could have the opposite effect.

So, what should we be doing about Putin's policies? There's not an easy answer. The Center is in conversations with our LGBT colleagues in Russia, our friends in the Department of State and LGBT experts in international matters, like the Council for Global Equality. At the time of publication, we were awaiting a statement from Russian LGBT leaders advising the international LGBT community about what would be helpful. You can find this posted on our website ( along with a fact sheet on LGBT rights in Russia.

There's also some important work to do with bodies like the International Olympic Committee regarding human rights standards they should require of any nation being considered to host the Games.

Putin is no friend to civil society or human rights in general. And as the Snowden incident indicates, he doesn't care much about Russia's relationship with the U.S.A. By organizing international condemnation of Putin's anti-LGBT policies and other human rights abuses, we could impact Russia and deter other leaders from considering a similar path.

As my mom used to say when I was about to go off half-cocked as a kid: "Think first; act second." That's not bad advice for our movement.

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