NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Some bar owners poured bottles of Russian vodka into the streets of Manhattan on Monday, in an ongoing protest against Russia’s crackdown on the gay community.
Holding up a bottle of the popular Russian brand Stolichnaya, United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association President Paul Hurley shook his head and called for a city-wide boycott of Russian spirits and liquor.
“All these vodkas here, we’re going to throw them out,” Hurley said. “We feel enough is enough.”
Hurley, who urged people to drink American-made alcohol instead, said the boycott was the first step toward pressuring Russia to change its policies toward gay people.
Paddy MacCarty, who owns the Nevada Smiths soccer bar at 100 Third Ave., said he is planning to toss out every bottle of Russian vodka behind the bar.
At least 200 New York bars and restaurants are participating in the boycott, which has spread to many gay bars across North America in the wake of a newly passed Russian law that bans the so-called “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”
In response to the boycott, Stolichnaya issued a letter late last month 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 some New York City bars have elected not to participate in the vodka boycott. The XES Lounge, at 157 W. 24th St. in Chelsea, has decided it will not be dropping 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 donate $1 to Amnesty International for every drink it sells this summer that is made with Stolichnaya.
“It does not seem fair or smart to boycott a company that has been a friend and ally to the LGBT community here and around the world,” XES said on Facebook.
Signed by President Vladimir Putin in late June, the new series of Russian laws impose hefty fines for providing information about the gay community to minors or holding gay pride rallies. One of them labels publicity with a pro-gay stance as “pornography” when directed at minors.
Putin also signed a law banning foreign same-sex couples from adopting Russian children, CBS Chicago reported.
Foreign citizens arrested under the law can be jailed for 15 days and then deported.
Last week, Russia’s sports minister said the country will enforce the law when it hosts the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
In response, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) submitted a bipartisan letter to the State Department calling for protection for Americans who plan to travel to the Olympic Games.
“These laws are completely contrary to the uniting spirit of the Olympics, which brings diverse nations together in a spirit of peaceful and friendly competition,” Nadler said.
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