West Hollywood gay bars and supporters are planning on pouring bottles of Stoli vodka into gutters in protest of Russia's oppression of gays.
West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran is asking gay bars to join in a ceremony on Thursday at Micky's bar to dump Stoli down gutters to raise awareness that multiple bars in the U.S. are boycotting the product. West Hollywood Councilman John D'Amico will also join in the ceremony, WeHo News reports.
Duran told the paper that his Russian President Vladimir Putin's anti-gay legislation "broke his heart," especially because he toured Russia with the LA Gay Men's Chorus 15 years ago. At that time, Duran "met such a phenomenal community of gay and lesbian people. They were active, creating a vigorous community," he told WeHo News.
Several gay bars in West Hollywood took Stoli off its shelf last week in protest. The Revolver posted announced its boycott of the product on its Facebook page:
Revolver Video Bar could not support any brand associated with Russia at a time when the Russian government is implementing its anti-gay law that bans gay propaganda.
West Hollywood is, ironically, a neighborhood of both gay and Russian residents, with 40 percent of the city identifying as LGBT and with 11 percent as Jewish immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union, the Los Angeles Times reports. Russian bakeries and stores line Santa Monica Boulevard, alongside gay bars, and public notices in City Hall, which has a rainbow flag flying outside, are in English and Russian, the Times reports.
Not only have Russian government officials passed blatant anti-gay legislation, but LGBT individuals are facing extreme violence at the hands of those in power, as well as by their fellow citizens.
In protest, many activists have called for LGBT athletes to boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and encouraged consumers to boycott the purchase of Russian-made products. Sidetrack, one of Chicago's most prominent gay bars, began the boycott of Stoli.
Stoli CEO, Val Mendeleev, released an open letter to the Advocate in response:
The recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community and the passionate reaction of the community have prompted me to write this letter to you.
I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions. 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 to the LGBT community. We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference.
The letter continues in an effort to highlight the ways in which Stoli has partnered with or been a sponsor of major queer events in the past -- such as serving as the official vodka of Miami Gay Pride, and producing a Stoli series in 2006 titled "Be Real: Stories from Queer America."
Mendeleev also notes that the Russian government has "no ownership interest or control over Stoli," but does admit that the company's "production process involves both Russia and Latvia."
In response, Duran told WeHo News, "They say we're going after the wrong people, but the only way to get the attention of the oligarchs to whom Putin listens is economically."
He also said that Stoli bottles will be filled with water for the ceremony Thursday, as environmental law prohibits pouring alcohol down gutters.