Gay Bars Boycott Russian Vodka

Gay bars around the world are banning Russian vodka to protest the lack of gay rights in that country.


Gay bars around the world are banning Russian vodka to protest the lack of gay rights in that country.

Atlantic Wire (“Gay Bars’ Ban on Russian Vodka Is Going Global“):

What started out as Dan Savage’s pledge against consuming Russian vodka is now a movement that has gay bars all around the world, from Vancouver to London, dumping Russian vodka to show their displeasure with the country’s treatment of gay people—even in the face of one of Russia’s prominent LGBT activists saying the whole thing is pointless.

When we last we checked in with Savage’s plea for gay people to stop drinking Russian vodka to protest the Kremlin’s aggressive anti-gay laws, a couple of gay bars in Chicago had joined in the boycott. Since then, more and more bars around the world have followed suit: London’s renowned Heaven nightclub, along with several others venues in the British capital, aren’t serving Russian booze; a bevy of Vancouver bars have followed suit, as have venues in SydneyWest HollywoodNew York City and San Francisco.

The ban is part of a growing movement to check Russia’s increasingly homophobic political milieu. In a sharply-worded editorial over the weekend titled “Mr. Putin’s War on Gays,“ The New York Times editorial board wrote:

For some time, antigay sentiment has been spreading in Russia’s conservative society, encouraged by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. But Mr. Putin and his government have taken that to a new level by legitimizing the hatemongering in legislation.

Clearly, there’s momentum behind this push.

Indeed. But the writer, Alexander Abad-Santos, anticipates my reaction:

But there’s still a question of how much the boycott itself is doing to force Vladimir Putin’s repressive hand. As I mentioned on Thursday, it’s hard to imagine that gay bars boycotting vodka will result in enough economic pressure to change Russia’s course. Nikolai Alekseev, a prominent Russian LGBT activist, counts himself among the skeptics. “To be honest, I don’t see the point in boycotting the Russian vodka,” he said in an interview with Gay Star News. ”It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. The effect will die out very fast, it will not last forever.”


But the aim of the boycott is not to, say, put Stoli out of business. Nobody has such delusions. Rather, it’s about shedding light on Russia’s aggressively anti-gay measures. It’s not unlike other viral movements —  #stopkony, for example — meant, foremost, to raise awareness among the general population.

True, these viral movements often get branded as “slacktivism,” a term that suggests people are not really doing anything to help the cause at hand. But, then again, the vodka ban is not asking for your money — only your attention to the plight of gays in Russia and, perhaps, a moment of thought about whether you want to patronize companies that might be a little too friendly with the Kremlin.

It strikes me as a perfectly reasonable protest. Non-Russian gays and non-Russians who support gay rights really have very little impact on Vladimir Putin’s policies; most of them are fully aware of that fact. So, why not a protest that makes them feel like they’re making a statement, gets their cause some attention it otherwise wouldn’t get, and comes with very little real sacrifice on their part? After all, there’s very little difference in taste between quality vodkas.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    In other news, Dog bites Man….

    On the slightly more serious side, here’s hoping there are a few dozen gay athletes at the Olympics “flaunting” their gayness, perhaps by wrapping themselves in Rainbow flags or some such.

  2. Tony W says:

    I’m on board, but at the same time glad the Russians don’t specialize in gin.

  3. Andy says:

    Most Russian Vodka is crap anyway. Polish potato vodka is where it’s at.

  4. It should be noted that this boycott is especially silly, if you know anything about the company in question. The owner of Stoli was one of political opponents of Putin and as a result, Putin’s been trying to nationalize the company for quite some time. The owner was forced to flee Russia after the domestic parts of the company were seized; the Stoli sold in the US now is produced by the remaining international parts of the company, which are based in Latvia.

    The international company has actually been a big supporter of LGBT rights around the world, and there’s nothing Putin would like more than to see the company financially hurt.

    So because Dan Savage can’t be bothered to do any research, the boycotters are attacking one of their friends and helping one of their enemies.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    More background on Stormy Dragon’s point here.

    I think this is not a reasonable protest.

  6. Tillman says:

    After all, there’s very little difference in taste between quality vodkas.

    But, but Herkimer diamonds! Quadruple-distilled! The novelty bottle!

  7. ernieyeball says:

    Since I gave up the swill years ago I must be participating in this boycott as well.
    Kinda’ like years ago when the gay organization on campus at Sleepytown U sponsored “Everyone wear bluejeans day in support of Gay Pride.”