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Some NYC LGBT Bars Boycott Vodka Brands Over Russian Anti-Gay Laws

Stolichnaya Vodka Issues Letter In Support Of LGBT Community In Response
(file / credit: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Gay Pride Rainbow Flag (file / credit: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Several New York City LGBT nightspots have decided to take spirits made in Russia off their shelves, as part of a protest against anti-gay laws in that country.

But vodka manufacturer Stolichnaya has issued a letter decrying the actions of the Russian government and saying it opposes the laws – and the operators of at least one New York City bar have decided the boycott is the wrong way for them to protest.

With the overwhelming support of Russia’s parliament and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval, the country recently banned gay pride events, gay adoptions and gay “propaganda,” reports CBS Los Angeles.

In recent days, the new laws prompted bars across the country to drop Russian-made vodka from their shelves in protest. G Lounge, at 225 W. 19th St. in Chelsea, said Friday that it was the first New York City gay bar to join the boycott.

“Stoli, and other Russian vodka brands, take pride in their heritage and past, a past now tarnished by a leader favoring the condemnation and jailing of anyone portraying the LGBT community in a positive light,” the bar said on its Facebook page. “(Advice columnist) Dan Savage recently spoke out against Russia’s anti-gay laws and increasing levels of violence targeting LGBT people.”

Also among the bars joining the boycott has been BoxersNYC – which has locations at 37 W. 20th St. in the Flatiron District and 742 Ninth Ave. in Hell’s Kitchen.

“As the largest LGBT seller of Stoli in the region, we feel that this symbolic step is of great importance in showing our solidarity,” Robert Fluet, co-owner of the BoxersNYC bars, said in a news release issued Friday.

BoxersNYC staff said in the release that they want “to show the world that they do not stand for sexual orientation discrimination and consequently are hoping to hurt the Russian economy with their movement,” particularly with the 2014 Winter Olympic Games set to be held in Sochi, Russia early next year.

The Eagle NYC at 554 W. 28th St. in Chelsea, also announced on Facebook Friday it would discontinue sales of Stolichnaya and other Russian vodka products. The XL Nightclub, Cabaret and Lounge at 512 W. 42nd St. in Hell’s Kitchen asked customers to weigh in on a possible boycott on its Facebook page Friday but did not make an announcement on whether it would be launching one.

In response to the boycott, Stolichnaya issued a letter on Thursday emphasizing that the brand denounces the Russian laws and stands in support of the LGBT community.

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,” Stolichnaya parent company SPI Group chief executive officer Val Mendeleev said in the letter. “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.”

And the XES Lounge, at 157 W. 24th St. in Chelsea, has decided it will not be boycotting Stolichnaya – the only Russian brand of vodka that it sells.

“Naturally we wonder what can be done to stop the suffering. What can we as individuals do to effectuate change in Russia? As operators of a gay bar, our first thought was to stop selling Russian products,” XES said on its Facebook page. “The problem is we only sell one Russian brand and that’s Stolichnaya Vodka. Unfortunately, boycotting Stoli doesn’t make sense.”

XES said the Russian government has no connection to the brand, and emphasized that the SPI Group is headquartered in Luxembourg while Stolichnaya is actually bottled in Latvia with Russian ingredients – a fact that the SPI Group also pointed out in its letter.

The bar said it will instead support groups such as Amnesty International to protest the situation in Russia.

“Look, XES carries virtually every major brand of vodka. It would be a simple matter to discontinue one of them. But that would be pandering simply to make us feel better, and it would have no real impact. We believe this plan is a better one. We hope you agree,” XES said on its Web site.

Several LGBT bars in West Hollywood outside Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities also decided to pull Russian-made vodka from their shelves this week. The push came after a Wednesday column by Savage in the Seattle-based weekly newspaper “The Stranger,” calling people in Seattle and other cities to “dump Russian vodka” in protest of the laws.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)