Stoli Vodka Responds to LGBT Boycott As More Clubs Dump the Brand
It didn't take long for officials from Stolichnaya Vodka to respond to the boycott a number of LGBT supporters and gay bars launched against the vodka company.
Stoli's officials went into damage control, updating the vodka company's Facebook header image with an LGBT-friendly message: "Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong & proud with the global LGBT community against the actions & beliefs of the Russian government," the text reads. An image of a Stoli bottle is featured in the image.
But this afternoon BoxersNYC, the New York sports bars with locations in Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen, announced they have joined the Stoli boycott. "In support of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight allies in Russia, and all over the world, Boxers NYC has taken the extraordinary step of removing Stoli and all Russian made products from our shelves," reads their press release.
"The anti-gay laws enforced by Russian President Vladimir Putin work against members of the LGBT community's basic human rights," the release continues. "Therefore BoxersNYC is joining in the fight to stop hate by DUMPING RUSSIAN VODKA and showing their solidarity with Russian equal right proponents and their supporters.
"'As the largest LGBT seller of Stoli in the region, we feel that this symbolic step is of great importance in showing our solidarity.", says Robert Fluet, co-owner of the BoxersNYC bars."
This follows yesterday’s announcement that Sidetrack, one of Chicago’s most popular gay bars, would no longer serve Stoli, a Russian vodka, because of Russia’s "homosexual propaganda" law, which bars citizens and tourists from sharing LGBT materials with youth. Those who break the law face substantial fines and jail time. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the measure into law last month; he also signed a law that restricts adoption rights for foreign LGBT couples. In addition, the highly controversial "homosexual propaganda law" impacts tourists and last week, four Dutch tourists were detained for violating the law. They were later released, however.
"Sidetrack cannot support a brand so associated with Russia at a time when Russia is implementing (against strong world criticism) its anti-gay law that bans gay ’propaganda,’" the bar’s officials wrote on Facebook. "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 Call, another Chicago gay bar is boycotting Stoli, and said on its Facebook page that it is "proudly serving non-Russian vodkas."
Out pundit and writer Dan Savage took to his weekly Seattle newspaper, the Stranger, this week and also urged LGBT Americans to boycott the vodka.
"Seattle’s bars, gay and straight, must dump Stoli. Seattle’s drinkers, gay and straight, must dump Stoli," Savage wrote. "Some are arguing-based on Stoli’s outdated Wiki page-that Stoli isn’t a Russian vodka. ’Presently the internationally distributed version of Stolichnaya is not a Russian vodka but is distilled and bottled in Latvia,’ Stoli’s Wiki page reads. ’In 2009, William Grant & Sons signed an agreement to distribute Stolichnaya in the USA, taking over from PepsiCo.’ That’s old news.
"On January 1, 2014, Stoli becomes a Russian vodka again," Savage continued. "The SPI Group -- which will be distributing Stoli in the USA before the Olympic games begin this winter -- is owned by Yuri Scheffler, one of the 100 richest men in Russia. Stoli is a Russian vodka."
He told his readers to switch to other vodkas, "or even a local brand from a local distillery," adding, "Stoli is the iconic Russian Vodka and it’s returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar -- gay or otherwise -- to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA."
As of this writing, 305 people liked the update on Stoli’s Facebook page and 176 Facebook users shared the picture. A slew of people responded, leaving comments on the image.
"How are you standing strong against the actions of the Russian Government? Posting a phrase on facebook?" someone wrote.
"Ridiculous attempt! WTF r they thinking.... Put a rainbow coloured post on Facebook and everything is solved?? Seriously, this PR activity is disgusting!" another said. This comment, however, got Stoli officials to respond.
"We understand your passion as we are too just as passionate about being treated FAIRLY and EQUAL," the Stoli’s comment reads. "For years Stoli/SPI has supported the LGBT global community as well as on-going issues with the Russian Govt. Unfortunately, we cannot comment on ongoing litigation with the govt. SPI currently does not own the Stoli brand in Russia. All sources are private companies of hardworking people with no affiliation with the Russian Government and even during trying times we will stand on the side of #Equality for all people around the globe. We wish you the best. #StoliPride"
Stoli replied to a number of comments, with different variations of the above reply.
"Stoli, our beef is not with your company, it is with the Russian government, but I will not be doing business with any Russian companies, period, until the homophobic laws are repealed. I recommend that your energy instead be focused on lobbying your government to be more interested in equality of all citizens," a Facebook user named Matt said.
Stoli replied and said, "Thanks for your note Matt, but we too have many years of "beef" with the Russian Govt. Unfortunately, we cannot comment on ongoing litigation. SPI currently does not own the Stoli brand in Russia.#StoliPride"
But the damage control didn’t stop there. Stoli Vodka CEO Val Mendeleev published an open letter to the Advocate Thursday night, commenting on the concern many have over the product’s connections to the Russian government.
"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," Mendeleeve writes. "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."
Mendeleev points out that that Stoli has been an LGBT supporter in the past, serving as the official for Miami Gay Pride and producing a series in 2006 called "Be Real: Stories from Queer America." He adds that the Russian government has "no ownership interest or control over Stoli but confesses the vodka’s "production process involves both Russia and Latvia."
LGBT rights group Queer Nation responded to the CEO’s letter and said that while Mendeleev published his letter, "we learned that Russian thugs, emboldened by Russia’s anti-gay law, have taken to gay web sites to lure gay people to supposed encounters where they are viciously beaten. This is just the latest in a series of violent attacks against LGBT Russians and foreign LGBT nationals in Russia.
"In the open letter, Mr. Mendeleev cited a few LGBT events where SPI promoted its Stolichnaya brand as evidence of the company’s support for our community. Mr. Mendeleev, marketing will not save LGBT lives," the letter concludes.
A report by the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, which aims to support LGBT rights in Eastern Europe, surfaced Thursday, which claimed former skinheads were luring LGBT teens via social media into "dates" but were torturing them.
"Over 500 online groups have been created inside VK.com social network in order to organize illegal militant groups in every Russian city," the report reads. "Oddly enough their idea of fighting pedophiles targets exclusively male teenagers who respond to the same-sex personal ads and show up for a date."
Dan Savage and the Chicago clubs aren’t the only ones boycotting Russian vodkas. As the Huffington Post reports, San Francisco gay bars Hi Tops and Moby Dick bar; Vancouver’s Fountainhead and Celebrities; and Britain’s G-A-Y group are no longer serving the Russian liquor.