West Hollywood gay bar owners joined with West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran on Thursday in pouring the contents of Stoli vodka bottles into a gutter as part of a vodka boycott that has stretched across the county in opposition to anti-gay laws recently signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Stoli pouring was held outside of Micky’s gay bar in the heart of WeHo’s gay bar district, and included Micky’s owner Michael Nieymeyer, Eleven owner Richard Grossi and Revolver managing partner Alfredo Diaz.
“We are using this boycott to raise awareness of the heinous persecution of our LGBT brothers and sisters in Russia,” Duran said. “Brands such as Russian Standard and Stolichnaya have historically been marketed as the premier Russian vodkas in the United States and are either produced in Russia, made from Russian ingredients, or both.
“Saying that you as a corporation are a friend to the gay community just isn’t enough when lesbians, gays, bi-sexual and transgender people in Russia are fighting for their lives,” he said.
West Hollywood bars Micky’s, Revolver, Eleven and The Abbey, along with restaurant Tortilla Republic, have pulled Russian vodkas from their shelves as part of the boycott, which is already being carried out by bars in cities such as New York, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco.
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation banning gay adoptions, “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” gay pride events and providing children with information on homosexuality. The bill was passed overwhelmingly by Russia’s parliament. There also has been a recent outbreak of violent attacks on the country’s gay citizens and advocates.
“One of the benefits of having public office is that I have the power of the podium,” said Duran. “I can call the press and say we’re having a press conference, and they’ll actually show up. In this case I’m making use of my public office to raise public awareness around Southern California about what’s happening to the LGBT community in Russia.”
Nearly a dozen TV cameras showed up to the event, which included short speeches from the owners who later joined Duran in pouring out the contents of large Stoli bottles (water) into a gutter along Santa Monica Boulevard.
“What they’re doing now, it’s unbelievable,” said Grossi. “Basically you can’t think about being gay there. They’re making it so you can’t talk about it. They can’t think about it. For a country as powerful and big as Russia to be doing something like that, we can’t stand by and watch it happen. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of power against them. So we’re reaching for the only thing we know how to do and that’s to boycott their products. We’re hoping to get the publicity so the cause gets bigger and the people who do have some power get concerned and exert their pressure on the Russian government.”
“What can we do as individuals?” said Duran. “We can do a boycott. The problem with boycotts is they are very sloppy. It’s not the greatest political tool to use. But when all other channels fail, it’s all we have left. We can’t just call the Russian Duma (lower house of the country’s legislature) and say ‘Stop what you’re doing.'”
Grossi hopes the movement grows to include the Olympics, which will be held in Sochi, Russia. According to the country’s sports minister, Russia will enforce its anti-gay law cracking down on gay rights activism when its hosts the Olympics.
“I’m hoping we get athletes and the Olympic Committee to become involved even if it’s referred to as the ‘Rainbow Olympics,’ and athletes put rainbow emblems on their uniforms,” Grossi said. “That would be a major achievement.”
Nieymeyer said he would like to see Hollywood get involved. “The music industry should look at this,” he said. “Should they be doing concerts and tours of Russia? We’d invite them to join us in the boycott.”
Officials from Stolichnaya recently issued a statement saying the company “has always been and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community.” The company also insisted it has no ties to the Russian government, although the vodka is made with Russian ingredients.
“Stoli is not a perfect villain in this,” said Grossi. “Stoli actually does a lot of good things. I don’t know what’s in their heart but I think they’ve done things for the gay community. They’re also owned by someone in Russia, a very powerful person.”
“We don’t hate Stoli,” he continued. “Our customers don’t hate Stoli. The reason we’re doing this is because our customers like Stoli. They have good vodka. A boycott about something you don’t care about doesn’t mean much.”
Stolichnaya’s parent company, SPI Group, is based in Luxembourg and the vodka is bottled in Latvia, but proponents of the boycott contend that the owner of SPI, Yuri Scheffler, one of the 100 richest men in Russia, should be using his power to put pressure on the Russian government.
“We researched the materials and the confusion about Latvia,” said Nieymeyer. “As we looked at it, the parent corporate holder has large investments in Russia. Online we saw the big new office tower that they built in Moscow. People with money have influence in that country just like they do in this country. We hope they’ll use it.”
“We’ve got caviar, vodka and fertilizer to choose from,” said Revolver’s Diaz. “Vodka is the most widely used.”
Larry Block, owner of the Block Party gay clothing store in the heart of WeHo’s gay bar district, said he was asked to participate in Thursday’s event but declined.
“I don’t support this kind of drama over diplomacy,” said Block, who noted that there wasn’t a representative from WeHo’s large Russian community at the event.
“This is for show,” said Block. “When you’re going for show, you are doing it for show instead of for effect. The effect is what can we do to organize the internal Russian community and rise up? Why not contact our large community of Russian immigrants and have them come to a meeting and ask for their advice?”
When questioned about how the city might involve the Russian community, Duran said “I think the next step in terms of our own West Hollywood community is to get our Gay and Lesbian Advisory Board and Russian Advisory Board talking. You have to remember who our Russian-speaking population is. They are Soviet Jews who escaped persecution in Russia. The reason they got here in the 1970s is that Russia was targeting them for political persecution because they were Jewish. If anyone understands Russia targeting a minority group our Russian community does.”
Block also called the event a “big photo op drama,” “unauthentic” and claimed that some of the bars, including Eleven and the Abbey, have exclusive contracts to serve Absolut and don’t even carry Stoli.
“Yes, I wanted to make use of this Russian vodka boycott to bring every TV station in LA here,” said Duran. “They are now broadcasting across LA what’s happening in Russia. I’m happy to use my public office for it and I can actually multi-task. I can open up a new library, make sure the streets are paved and practice law at the same time.”
“I’m against everything happening in Russia, who could be for it?” said Block. “But I think our City Council could have organized an emergency meeting of the Russian Advisory Board.”
Duran also called on “straight allies,” particularly on the Sunset Strip, to get involved.
“Gay people know what’s happening to gay people in Russia,” said Duran. “Our straight allies do not.”
Each of the bar owners said they had almost exclusively received positive feedback regarding the boycott.
“A majority of people, and I do mean a vast majority, support it,” said Diaz. “They’re curious. They want to be educated.”
Also attending to lend his support was Rodney Scott, president of Christopher Street West, which puts on the annual LA Pride event.
I take it all back, except to the Hater remarks. We need to Educate Putin, and Stoli isnt Russian, we Educated and won respect from USA this Boycotting Russian Vodka that isnt Russian and who Sponsers many events for our community, is our Ally, put Stli back on the Bar Shelves. Note to Stoli, Maybe take the RUSSIAN VODKA off the lable, its misleading.
For people like Marco Colantonio, Monty W, and others with their heads in the sand… this is for you. It couldn’t be any clearer, or any easier to understand:
Please share the link!
JJ, thanks but no thanks that was the least harmful
Action we could take, unless we do what our Counterparts
in skinhead land would do and beat up
Straight Russians. We were just making a point to
Putin, You don’t think he would have done so against
us, get your Head out of the Sand. And quit back
stabbing your brothers in Weho. Shame be on you.
I’m so disgusted with our community! How dare WEHO bars use this for free PR. These bars that are participating in this boycott offered cocktail specials so people would come out to support the Stoli dumping, but not 1 bar said they would donate any of these profits to charity. These bars are using this horrible situation in Russia to make money off our community! They should all be ashamed of themselves!!! Stoli supports our LGBT community and you want to boycott them? Really? Why would you turn on our ally like Stoli? Makes no sense. Harvey Milk’s nephew know… Read more »
WELL on to bigger NEWS CONGRADULATIONS TO LYNDA CARTER FOR HER PALM SPRINGS STAR ON THE WALK OF FAME THAT IS PLANNED IN THE UPCOMING MONTHS.
I have sent the following to Mayor Abbe Land, and the Deputies of Councilman John Duran and Mayor Pro Tempore John D’Amico. Please feel free to copy and forward on this letter verbatim. I am appalled at the actions of Councilmember John Duran yesterday morning at the “Dump Stoli” event. This was an embarrassment to our city. We should not be acting with such haste and lack of education. As he should have been made aware, Stolichnaya Vodka that is imported into the United States is produced by the SPI group, a company which is incorporated in Luxembourg, one of… Read more »
Please forward this to anyone who will listen.
OK< We need to Make known and draw attn to Putins Inhumane Hitleresque Behavior. This is a way of doing that, Stoli will not suffer, but we need to get people aware, thats what Activism is about. Congradulations Mr Duran and Company. This will open dialogue about Russian and their presidents lack of Education.
lack of Education. Think before writing silly replies.
What a great idea, let’s protest the treatment of gays in Russia by attacking the supporters of gay rights in Russia. Which genius came up with that idea? What next, let’s protest animal cruelty by organizing a hunting expedition?
This was a publicity stunt and nothing more. Does Duran really think Putin or anybody in the Kremlin heard about this silly stunt? Of course not. And using Stoli, which isn’t even made in Russia is a joke. How about using a vodka that actually was made in Russia? There are a lot of them, but of course, they don’t have the name recognition of Stoli. And, by the way, doesn’t Stoli sponsor some City events? Don’t count of that now Duran, you dolt. I am glad that D’Amico came to his senses and didn’t show up for this. I… Read more »
What was done today and is being done in Chicago, New York and other major cities is symbolic and a sign of solidarity for our LBGT brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution in Russia. Putin’s anti gay legislation and proclamations constitute Human Rights violations and in Putin’s Russia, GAY is a crime! It seems that throwing tea overboard was pretty effective in its symbolism so why not Russian vodka? The world needs to send a message to Russia’s government and a boycott is a good way to start so I support a boycott of anything and everything Russian until… Read more »
A Russian boycott? The Blighted East Side’s Russian shops, cheek by jowl, import Russian made and labeled products in almost every one. What does this say to our Russian residents some of whom may be (wait for it) gay. These businesses are their lifelines and their livelihoods. This is a terrible insult to them (and the taxes they pay to the city).
I find this publicity stunt hard to swallow.
Duran sounds just crazy.