No equal rights, no vodka nights: gay clubs boycott Russian imports

 

Popular British gay bars and nightclubs have joined a global boycott of Russian vodka brands following allegations of human rights abuses by Vladimir Putin’s government.

Several popular gay venues in London and Manchester – including those run by the influential G-A-Y Group, which operates the world-famous Heaven nightclub – have pledged not to stock Russian vodka, following the lead of dozens of gay bars in the US and Canada.

The boycott comes in the wake of an increasingly aggressive crackdown on gay rights in Russia, including a controversial law signed last month by President Putin that banned the promotion of “non-traditional” relationships to children. In June, all 60 people who took part in the St Petersburg gay pride march were arrested, and many claimed to have been “badly beaten”. Russia’s parliament has also voted for a bill that bans adoption of children by foreign same-sex couples.

The worldwide boycott was launched by the US writer and activist Dan Savage, who urged bars to “dump Russian vodka” to “show solidarity with Russian queers and their allies”. Stolichnaya and Russian Standard are the brands being targeted in Britain by prominent gay club and bar operators.

Jeremy Joseph, the co-founder and owner of the G-A-Y Group, confirmed it was boycotting the brands and urged supermarkets including Tesco and Sainsbury’s to do the same. “Gay venues banning Russian vodka isn’t just about trying to hit the Russian economy, but it’s a way of showing solidarity and that the lesbian and gay community in Russia are on our minds,” he said.

Gary Henshaw, who runs London’s Ku Bar, which has also joined the boycott, said he had visited Moscow in March last year during the city’s pride celebrations. He told The Independent: “I went looking for the planned and banned gay pride march. I failed to find it. It was broken up practically before it started and had very few attendees.

“I was quite angry at the time. Now with hindsight I realise that gay Russians live in fear of the authorities, and those authorities have hardened their resolve to criminalise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Other venues in the capital that have joined the boycott include Soho’s Manbar and The Shadow Lounge.

A spokesman for Britain’s largest gay rights campaign group Stonewall said: “We are disturbed by the ongoing human rights abuses in Russia. We are talking with activists on the ground about the best way to respond before taking any action.”

One of the two brands targeted by the boycott has already launched a PR campaign to distance itself from the Russian government’s stance on gay rights. In an open letter to members of the LGBT community in the UK, Val Mendeleev, the chief executive officer of the SPI Group, which owns Stolichnaya, said that the vodka, produced by the state in Soviet times and a reported favourite of Boris Yeltsin, is produced by the SPI Group in Latvia, albeit using Russian ingredients.

“Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions. Stolichnaya vodka has always been, and continues to be, a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community,” he said.

Russian Standard vodka is still produced in Russia and owned by the Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko. The company, which sells 2.9 million cases a year, has declined to comment.

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