It's Pride Weekend here in Vancouver, and there's going to be a lot of celebrating going on. Flags will be flown, dancing will be done, and drinks will be downed, and as a former bartender at Vancouver's famous PumpJack Pub I can tell you that many of those downed drinks will have vodka in them.
But not Stolichnaya, one of the world's most famous vodkas. Not in the bars of Davie's Gay Village at least. They've heeded a boycott of Russian vodka called for by sex advice columnist, newspaper editor, and LGBT activist Dan Savage, a boycott that sports the twitter hashtags #DumpVodka, and the more aimed #DumpStoli.
#DumpStoli. It's a clever idea, but on closer look it's one that seems as if it were conceived over a couple of cocktails, with little actual research into the entire situation beyond deciding that Russia's new anti-gays laws are homophobic, vodka is Russian, and Stolichnaya is vodka, therefore Stoli must be homophobic. The boycott is almost obvious!
And then, having pushed aside his martini and called for a rum drink, he perhaps toasted his cleverness, and then with an article and a hashtag ignited a social media firestorm.
However, had this idea come to Savage over a computer keyboard rather than those cocktails I've imagined, I'd like to think he'd have taken the time to learn a few things that would have made him realize that not only is a boycott of Stolichnaya misplaced, if we're to view this fight for gay rights as a battle, then this is friendly fire! We've attacked an ally!
First a few things you should know, in case you haven't read any of the articles in BuzzFeed, here in the Huffington Post, or The Journalist, amongst others, which call into question or outright refute many of the assumptions that lead to the Stoli boycott.
The fact that SPI, the producers of Stoli, are actually based in Latvia, and that's where their vodka is actually distilled. Their claim to being "Russian Vodka" until 2007 was largely a marketing decision, and since then they've labeled their product "Premium Vodka" instead of Russian.
Latvia is a small country, with a population of just over two million people. TWO million. That's less than the population of B.C. Hell, it's unquestionably millions and millions less than the LGBT population of the United States. When you think of it that way picking on poor Latvia almost seems like bullying - something the Dan Savage who pioneered the great "It gets better" campaign would hardly seem likely to get behind.
SPI has a track record of supporting LGBT rights and sponsoring LGBT events and celebrations that goes back years. The one that resonated with me, the one that when named caught my attention and caused me to look into this boycott deeper and reach my own conclusions that it was wrong, was upon learning that Stoli had sponsored gay events South Africa. It only took a few minutes for me to discover a few things: post apartheid South Africa's anti-discrimination laws are wide reaching and strong. And despite that more than 80% of the population disapproves of homosexuality. More than 80%.
Clearly Stoli's commitment to South Africa's LGBT community was about something other than just market share.
But while SPI's human rights bona fides have swayed me, Dan Savage is made of sterner stuff.
"While it's nice that SPI is willing to market to homos who are lucky enough to live in Austria, the US, and South Africa, what has SPI done in Russia? The group has sponsored gay pride events in Vienna and Miami. That's nice. But have they sponsored gay pride events in Moscow or St. Petersburg?"
Well good on Dan for calling it like he sees it! Why hasn't SPI sponsored those Moscow or St. Petersburg parades? It's almost as if there were laws that made such sponsorship difficult if not impossible. It's almost like SPI were itself in a bitter fight with the Russian government over the Stolichnaya name, with Russia hoping to wrestle control of the trademark so they can market their own vodka, Russian vodka, in place of SPI's Latvian libation.
Almost as if SPI and its board and employees feared the Russian bear themselves.
In light of those facts I'd urge Dan Savage, the gay bars of Vancouver, and LGBT people everywhere to reconsider #DumpStoli, and instead decide to #DTMFA.
If you want to keep boycotting other vodkas, actual Russian vodkas, go ahead, even if actual Russian gay activists have labelled the effort everything from useless to dangerous.
Despite my criticism here I have a lot of respect for Dan Savage. He's done great things, championed great causes, and loudly and proudly gone about being his very opinionated self. Who could forget his great campaign to rebrand "Santorum?" It's just that in this case his opinion was wrong, and when that was demonstrated he didn't revise his opinion in the face of the facts, he doubled down. I might respect Savage but I can't respect that.
And that's why come this Sunday I'll be serving Stoli proudly at my Kinky Pride party. Sure, I know I'm going to take a little flack for it from the uniformed, but in the face of criticism both SPI and myself can take some solace in the words of Dan Savage: "It Gets Better."
Reive Doig has also written two open letters to Councillor Tim Stevenson in response to Stevenson's criticism of the writer's decision to serve Stoli vodka this Pride.