Tag Archives: stoli

Does your money support your values?

The golden rule for cooking pasta is 1½ teaspoons of salt, 3.5 ounces of pasta and a gallon of water, according to Barilla, the so-called pasta “choice of Italy.” Apparently, company chairman Guido Barilla likes to stir in some homophobia too.

Barilla, during a recent interview on Italian radio, said that he “would never do (a commercial) with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role.”

He went on to say what was translated as, if gay people “like our pasta and our advertising, they’ll eat our pasta, if they don’t like it then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”

Oh, the things a homophobe can say to push tempers past the boiling point.

In the LGBT community in Italy and here at home in the United States, the focus quickly turned to circulating petitions on Change.org and a boycott of all-things Barilla – the dried pasta of various shapes in the familiar blue box, the microwavable meals, the marinara sauces and the trendy gluten-free products.

Barilla offered an apology to employees and customers that was placed prominently on the company website next to his photograph. He described his comments as “insensitive” and said, “I understand that they were hurtful and they are not a genuine view of my opinion.”

As a WiG reader, you probably were offended by Barilla’s remarks and perhaps you’re not accepting his quick apology and restocking your food pantry with the brand’s spicy marinara sauce and spaghetti.

We haven’t accepted the apology either, and we fundamentally disagree with the corporate chief and his narrow-minded ideas about family.

But before we head to the checkout counter to prove our loyalty to the cause, we ought to take stock of what it means to be progressives and consumers. We believe that it means going beyond rapid responses to headline news and shaming corporate executives until they offer their “sincerest apologies” for jeopardizing their bottom line.

As good progressives and consumers, we should research all the brands we purchase to make sure that we chose wisely. For instance, part of boycotting Barilla should involve looking into whether the brand seeking to capitalize on Barilla’s insensitivity is owned by a conglomerate with a history of discrimination complaints, union trouble and health and safety violations. Or whether it’s owned by a Big Food company heavily invested in a campaign to block labeling food for genetically-modified ingredients.

Money talks – and it speaks loudly. Instead of getting a self-satisfied rush out of participating in the latest boycott trend, we should all think about what our daily purchases are saying. We should put our values into the way we distribute our cash.

With the holiday shopping season around the corner, this is the time to investigate the corporate behavior of the companies you might support.

Refusing to buy Stoli, Chick-fil-A and Barilla won’t change the world. But if we all did our research and exercised mindfulness as consumers, we could have quite an impact.

Boycott spotlights a truly evil empire

Thirty years have passed since Ronald Reagan delivered his famous “Evil Empire” speech about the Soviet Union. Sadly, decades after the Iron Curtain lifted, the Russian bloc remains as evil as ever. 

A former KGB agent, Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains power the old-fashioned Soviet way, by torturing and killing dissenters and by sharing the wealth gained through corruption with his cronies. He’s also remilitarized the nation and cozied up to America’s enemies – the most brutal dictatorships and anti-democratic nations on Earth.

The underground black-market economy that thrived under Soviet deprivation has come under the control of a ruthless mafia that operates with impunity by plying the government with bribes.  As a result, drug addiction, prostitution and violence permeate the former Soviet bloc, which also is a major trafficker of child prostitutes.

Alcoholism and suicide are so rampant in Russia that the average life expectancy is 69 years – and only 64 for males.

Amid this bleak scenario, the Russian government’s smackdown of LGBT rights and the growing neo-Nazi violence against LGBT people has drawn attention from the West in a way that the nation’s many other atrocities have failed to generate. These days, only the American Christian right is cheering on the evil empire. For most of the rest of the Western world, the open persecution of gays has inspired condemnation, including a massive and growing worldwide boycott against Stolichnaya vodka, as well as other Russian products and tourism. 

Critics complain that Stoli is the wrong company to target, because it has supported the gay market and really isn’t a de facto Russian company. It’s true that Stoli’s COO lives in Luxembourg and its owner in London. But as Russia’s flagship export, it’s a great symbol. Also, it appears likely that international courts will return ownership of the brand to the Russian government next year. Even now, the product uses all-Russian ingredients and maintains considerable operations in its native land. It’s produced in  Latvia – another bastion of homophobia.

While the company now says that it condemns Russia’s anti-gay oppression, there’s no evidence that it’s ever taken any formal action against it. Stoli’s support of gays has been clearly motivated by marketing and not by human rights. That represents exploitation, not support. We believe that the way Stoli has pandered for gay dollars without standing up for our basic human rights makes the company a great target. 

Critics also argue that the boycott can’t possibly make a dent in Russia’s massive economy. That’s true. But the boycott is drawing global attention to what’s happening in Russia, and it’s illuminating consumers so they can make informed purchasing decisions.

The International Olympic Committee made a terrible mistake in selecting Sochi for next year’s Winter Games. In doing so, the IOC lent an aura of respectability to one of the most wretched governments on Earth – a country that is clearly at war with democracy and individual freedom.

Supporters of the boycott are countering this misperception and helping to undermine the legitimacy that Russia hoped to gain in the world’s eyes from hosting the games. While boycotters will not bring the Russian economy to its knees, they’re shining a spotlight on an empire that stubbornly remains both evil and medieval.

Distiller owner tries to defuse boycott of Stoli

Many gay bars in North America have stopped selling the famous Stolichnaya vodka brand to protest Russia’s crackdown on the gay community. But the vodka’s maker has joined forces with Latvia’s leading gay rights group to say that the boycott is misplaced.

Though Stolichnaya is an historic Russian brand and some of its ingredients come from Russia, virtually all of the Stoli sold in the west is made in Latvia, a former Soviet republic that is now part of NATO and the European Union. It’s the perception that it’s Russian that’s prompted the boycott – Russia recently introduced a law that bans so-called “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imposes hefty fines on those holding gay pride rallies.

The vodka is produced in Latvia by Latvijas Balzams, which has 600 employees and is one of the nation’s biggest exporters. However, Latvijas Balzams is nearly 90 percent owned by Luxembourg-based SPI Group, which in turn is controlled by Yury Shefler, a Russian-born billionaire who left Russia a decade ago after falling out with the Kremlin over his support of opposition political parties.

SPI said it was “very optimistic” that there would be a breakthrough in talks with activists advocating the boycott.

“We have been active in setting the records straight – that we stand on the same side and that we hate to be associated with the attitude and actions of the Russian government on this issue,” SPI told The Associated Press in an email response Friday

And Mozaika, Latvia’s gay rights group, appealed to organizers of the “Dump Stoli! Dump Russian Vodka!” to drop their campaign.

“This campaign will only harm Latvia, Latvia’s economy and employees of the company Latvijas Balzams,” Mozaika said in a statement this week.

Despite the boycott, Latvijas Balzams officials said the distillery saw no reason to consider decreasing Stolichnaya output in light of the boycott and that production of the vodka was up 10 percent in the first six months of the year.

As yet, there’s no sign that the boycott will be called off. One group, Queer Nation, contended that SPI remained an appropriate target for a boycott.

“Though the company claims to be friend to our community, it was silent as the Russian government considered this horrific law, and it said nothing after the law was enacted,” Queer Nation said in a statement. “Stolichnaya only spoke up after the boycott was announced. Friends do not keep silent when those they claim to value are under attack.”

Queer Nation urged Mozaika to put pressure on SPI to take action in Russia seeking repeal of the legislation that’s caused such outrage.

Russian anti-gay laws impact Olympics, vodka sales

Russian vodka and the Winter Olympics in Sochi. For now, those are the prime targets as gays in the United States and elsewhere propose boycotts and other tactics to convey their outrage over Russia’s intensifying campaign against gay-rights activism.

At many gay bars across North America, owners have joined a campaign to stop selling Russian vodka – notably the popular brand Stolichnaya. Activists also are pressing the International Olympic Committee and NBC, which holds U.S. broadcasting rights for Sochi, to be more aggressive in criticizing new Russian laws.

So far, there have been only scattered calls for a full-fledged boycott of the Sochi Games, but there is active discussion of how to convey gay-rights messages once the competition begins – including gestures by individual athletes and perhaps a gay Pride parade.

The chief flashpoint is a law signed by President Vladimir Putin last month that bans the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imposes hefty fines for providing information about the gay community to minors or holding gay Pride rallies. Foreign citizens arrested under the law can be jailed for 15 days and then deported.

There also is concern about a long-running problem of violence against gays in Russia, as well as a new law restricting adoptions of Russian children by people in countries allowing same-sex marriage.

The new laws were approved by parliament with overwhelming support, reflecting animosity toward gay activism that is widely shared across the political spectrum in Russia.

Responding to the furor, the IOC said it has received assurances “from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.” It pledged to ensure there would be no discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media in Sochi.

However, the Human Rights Campaign, a leading U.S. gay-rights group, said the IOC should take a stronger stand.

“They should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”

The New York Times, in an editorial earlier this week, said the U.S. government “needs to be more forceful” in denouncing the new laws.

“So does the International Olympic Committee, which too often fails to defend the Olympic ideals and should be leading a full-throated international campaign to insist that Russia repeal these laws,” the editorial said.

NBC also is coming under pressure, including an open letter from the Human Rights Campaign saying it would be wrong to televise Sochi’s opening ceremonies without reporting on the anti-gay legislation.

Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, was asked about the matter during a weekend meeting with television critics.

“We will address it if it becomes an issue,” he said. “If it is still their law and it is impacting any part of the Olympics Games, we will make sure that we acknowledge it and recognize it.”

There seems to be little momentum at this stage for organizing a boycott of the Games.

“History has proven that the only people that are negatively affected by boycotts are the athletes who have trained their whole lives to compete,” said Patrick Sandusky of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “Past boycotts have not worked, and the USOC is not planning on boycotting these Games.”

Patrick Burke of the You Can Play Project, which seeks to combat anti-gay prejudice in major sports, is urging outspoken participation at Sochi by gay athletes as well as straight athletes who support them.

“Maybe some of the individuals who go will feel compelled to take a stand – for themselves, for their family, for their friends, for the Russian people,” Burke wrote in a column. “Maybe they’ll remind us of the power of pure, unadulterated sport to compel change. We’ll know only if we show up.”

Gay U.S. figure skater Johnny Weir, who hasn’t ruled out a comeback attempt for Sochi, has depicted the repression in Russia as “heartbreaking” but says he opposes a boycott.

“There isn’t a police officer or a government that, should I qualify, could keep me from competing,” he wrote in an op-ed last week in the Falls Church (Va.) News-Press.

Another gay athlete, New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup, says he will be wearing a rainbow pin at the Olympics, and “If that gets me in trouble, then so be it.”

“I have no interest in going back into the closet in Sochi,” he told the Daily Xtra, an online news outlet in Canada, where he was training. “This is not about defiance. This is me standing up for what I believe in.”

Charley Sullivan, associate men’s rowing coach at the University of Michigan and one of the first openly gay coaches of a major-college sports team, suggested that other athletes could adopt similar tactics, wearing gay Pride pins and carrying rainbow flags to the closing ceremonies.

The athletes, Sullivan said, have “a moral imperative not to let their efforts, their body, the images of what they do, their names, to be hooked to legitimizing of the host country without their consent.”

Nikolai Alexeyev, a prominent Russian gay-rights activist, suggested staging a gay Pride parade in Sochi as the Olympics begin “to attract the maximum attention to the rights violations.”

Alexeyev was not among a group of more than 20 other Russian activists who issued an open letter endorsing efforts to boycott Russian goods and companies, as well the Sochi Games.

Russian journalist Masha Gessen, who helped organize the letter, also suggested that activists around the world should confront Russian officials when they travel abroad.

“Our goal is that any foreign trip made by Russian officials or representatives of big Russian companies becomes hell,” she said.

Another signer of the letter, photographer Mitya Aleshkovsky, welcomed the boycott of Stolichnaya.

“If more Russian brands face rebuke and boycott in the West, it would help influence the Russian government,” he said. “Of course, a boycott of Russian oil and gas would be the most efficient step, but, regrettably, none of Western oil and gas importers are willing to do that.”

The vodka boycott took shape last week, fueled by appeals from popular gay columnist Dan Savage and various other activists and organizations. Gay bars in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere joined the effort.

In New York City, the activist group Queer Nation is planning to organize a “vodka dump” Wednesday at the Russian consulate.  

Hoping to defuse the boycott, the CEO of the company that produces Stolichnaya, Val Mendeleev, issued a statement criticizing the Russian anti-gay laws as “dreadful actions.” He depicted his company as a longtime supporter of the global gay community, as evidenced by Stolichnaya’s role as a sponsor of various gay Pride events.

“We are upset and angry,” Mendeleev wrote. “We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia.”

Mendeleev said his company, SPI Group, has no ties to the Russian government. The vodka is made from Russian wheat, rye and raw alcohol at a distillery in Latvia.

Some U.S. activists proposed that the boycott be extended to Russian caviar, and also suggested that American companies doing business in Russia be pressured to speak out against the laws.

Two gay-rights groups, All Out and Athlete Ally, on Monday announced the launch of a “speak out, not sit out” campaign that would oppose a boycott of Sochi while encouraging gay-rights activism before and during the Games.

“Staging the Games in Russia with these laws in place is like holding the Olympics in Johannesburg (South Africa) at the height of apartheid,” said Andre Banks, executive director of All Out. “President Putin will risk his country’s international reputation if these Games go ahead with laws in place that are in fundamental opposition to Olympic values.”

Yelena Goltsman, the founder of a New York-based gay-rights group for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, had called for moving the Games from Sochi to another country, but now says it’s too late for that.

Goltsman’s group, RUSA LGBT, is encouraging international corporations to withdraw their sponsorship of the Olympics or to flout the Russian law by including statements supporting gay rights in their commercials.

Editor’s note: Look for more on this story in WiG’s next print issue, which publishes on Aug. 8.

Change.org petition calls for Olympic sponsors to condemn Russia’s anti-gay law

A petition launched on Change.org calls for a companies involved in sponsorship at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to condemn Russia’s anti-gay law, which provides for the arrest of people who promote homosexuality and same-sex relationships to minors. 

Already more than 50,000 people have signed the petition, which urges Olympic sponsors, including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa to condemn “to take a firm stand and condemn Russia’s recently passed legislation that bans the promotion of gay rights in public under the threat of jail time and heavy fines.”

Julianne Howell, a Loveland, Ohio, resident and a fan of the Olympic games, launched the petition drive.

She said, “It’s time for these companies to put their support for LGBT people first, and send a message to Russia that their anti-gay laws are not only contrary to basic human rights, but fly in the face of the spirit of the Olympic Games, which celebrate human dignity and community above all else.”

Howell’s petition is circulating as there seems to be growing interest in some LGBT communities for boycotting the Winter games and LGBT bars in the United States and Britain are dumping Russian-made or Russian-affiliated vodka.

On the Web…

The petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/stand-against-russia-s-brutal-crackdown-on-gay-rights-urge-winter-olympics-2014-sponsors-to-condemn-anti-gay-laws 

Gay bars in West Hollywood join Stoli boycott

Several gay bars in West Hollywood have boycotted Stolichnaya vodka – which is distilled from Russian ingredients – following the recent passage of anti-gay laws in Russia that ban gay Pride events and “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”

Eleven Bar & Nightclub, Revolver Video Bar and Mother Lode are among the bars that have stopped serving the Russian spirit known as Stoli, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Those establishments are on a strip of Santa Monica Boulevard where gay bars and Russian bakers and stores do business side-by-side.

About 40 percent of West Hollywood residents are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, and about 11 percent are Russian and former-Soviet state immigrants.

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

“Revolver Video Bar could not support any brand associated with Russia at a time when the Russian government is implementing its anti-gay law that bans gay ‘propaganda,”” the bar said in its Facebook statement.

Stoli’s maker, SPI Group, says the company is “a fervent supporter and friend” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

In a statement, CEO Val Mendeleev called the new laws “dreadful actions” and cited initiatives the company has taken to support the gay community, including serving as the official vodka of Miami Gay Pride Week.

“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,” Mendeleev wrote. “We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia.”

West Hollywood city council member and former Mayor John Duran disagrees.

“I’ve looked for evidence of their fervent support but all I can find is sponsoring Gay Pride festivals so they can sell gays they product,” he said. “That’s not supporting the community, that’s marketing your brand to the community.”

“We can’t stand by as a community and watch the street thuggery on TV and the government’s thuggery in the papers without doing something,” Duran added. He and fellow city council member John D’ Amico have asked the gay bars in West Hollywood to perform a ceremony pouring bottles of Stoli into the gutter to raise awareness of the boycott. Since environmental law prohibits pouring alcohol down gutters, water will be used instead.

The boycott Stoli movement started in Florida and at Sidetrack in Chicago about a week ago.

Activists have also called on the U.S. to boycott the 2014 Winter Games, which will be in the Russian city of Sochi.

The privately owned, Luxembourg-based company has no ties to the Russian government. The vodka is made from Russian wheat, rye and raw alcohol at a distillery in Latvia.

Olympic committee: Russia says anti-gay law won’t affect athletes at Olympics

The International Olympic Committee on July 26 released a statement to Russian news outlets responding to growing international fear about the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living in Russia or traveling to Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The fear is rooted in the crackdown on LGBT Russians after passage in June of a law that criminalizes what the government refers to as “propaganda” promoting homosexuality. The law signed by President Vladimir Putin imposes fines or jail time for those who circulate information that may cause a “distorted understanding” that LGBT and heterosexual relationships are “socially equivalent.” Foreigners, under the law, can be fined and also face arrest and up to 15 days in jail, followed by eventual deportation.

Also, there have been numerous reports of violence against LGBT people in Russia, including an alleged assault in Sochi – site of the Games – and a recent series of bashings by skinheads luring LGBT teens through online services.

The right-wing violence and government-sanctioned arrests of LGBT people has spurred international calls for a boycott of the Olympics and also prompted some gay bars in the United States and Britain to announce a boycott of Russian vodka.

The IOC, in its statement, said it “has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

Late on July 26, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights group in the United States, responded: “Mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough. The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin.  But more importantly, they should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”

Griffin, earlier in the week, called on NBCUniversal, which has rights to exclusive coverage of the Winter Games, to address the anti-gay law in Russia.

UPDATE: Chicago gay bar boycotting Stoli vodka over anti-gay law

UPDATED: Stoli responds. Says SPI, the owner of Stoli, does not own the Stolichnaya brand in Russia. But LGBT activists say that’s a distortion of the truth: SPI is in Russia and the vodka comes from Russia.

Chicago’s largest gay bar has removed Stolichnaya Vodka from its shelves to protest Russia’s anti-gay law that has led to the arrest of citizens and tourists in that country.

Sidetrack, located on North Halsted Street in Boystown, posted an announcement on its Facebook page. The announcement said, “Tonight you might notice that Sidetrack has removed Stolichnaya Vodka from our shelves. Sidetrack cannot support a brand so associated with Russia at a time when Russia is implementing (against strong world criticism) it’s anti-gay law that bans gay ‘propaganda.'”

The announcement continued, “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. So starting immediately we will not sell Stoli or any other Russian products at Sidetrack.”

Sidetrack has led the way in prior boycotts over anti-gay campaigns and measures, including a boycott of Coors beer.

Numerous other organizations, businesses and leaders in the LGBT community in the United States have also called for a boycott of Stoli and Russian products, most notably activist and writer Dan Savage.

Savage recently wrote, “If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands listed above, switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery. 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.”

He also encouraged Seattle bars to dump Russian vodka.

Responding to growing calls for a boycott, Stoli has issued a statement emphasing that it is a support of the LGBT community. The statement reads, “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka continues to be fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community. This is true in all the countries the brand operates in around the world. SPI, the owner of Stoli, does not own the Stolichnaya brand in Russia. The Stolichnaya made in Russia for the local market is owned by a state-controlled entity that has absolutely no connection to SPI. Stoli firmly opposes the beliefs supported by the Russian Government in relation to the treatment of the LGBT community. If SPI were to manufacture, market and sell Stoli in Russia, the brand would actively demonstrate support for the LGBT community as it does throughout the rest of the world where Stoli is available.”

This statement prompted a response from Queer Nation, which cited a letter from Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI Group, the owner of the Stolichnaya brand, who confirmed that SPI produces the vodka in Russia and that SPI has offices and operations in Russia.

Queer Nation, in its statement, said, “By its own admission, SPI Group operates in Russia and pays taxes to the Russian government. That money funds these continuing attacks on LGBT people and organizations in Russia. Queer Nation will continue its boycott of Stolichnaya and other Russian vodkas until this anti-gay law is repealed and the Russian government guarantees the safety of its LGBT citizens and foreign LGBT nationals in Russia.

“We will not help you fund the Russian war on LGBT people.”