Chicago Gay Bars Boycott Russian Vodka

The boycott is in response to Russia’s recent implementation of laws limiting the rights of the LGBT community

Friday, Jul 26, 2013  |  Updated 6:38 AM CDT
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The move is a response to the Russian Government's handling of gay rights issues

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The move is a response to the Russian Government's handling of gay rights issues

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Some Chicago gay bars are saying “nyet” to Russian vodka.

In response to Russia’s recent implementation of laws limiting the rights of the LGBT community, some city gay bars are protesting by boycotting Russian vodka and other Russian products.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed laws forbidding same-sex couples from adopting Russian children and banned gay propaganda.

In a Facebook post, Sidetrack, at 3349 N. Halsted, announced Wednesday the bar has removed Stolichnaya Vodka from its shelves.

“Sidetrack cannot support a brand so associated with Russia at a time when Russia is implementing (against strong world criticism) its anti-gay law that bans gay ‘propaganda,’” the post read. “Starting immediately we will not sell Stoli or any other Russian products at Sidetrack.

Inside, the space once occupied by Stoli now sits empty, and that's just how owner Art Johnston wants it to appear.

"We certainly want it to be visible," he said. "When I realized they were actually enforcing these laws... I said we must do something."

Supporters of the movement say their proud Johnston has spoken out.

"I stand by him 100 percent," said Boystown resident Jake Castillo.

And Sidetrack isn’t the only bar to protest Russian goods.

Andersonville’s The Call bar, at 1547 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., announced on Twitter Wednesday they are “proudly serving non-Russian vodkas.”

“Let’s stand together on this,” the tweet read. “No one deserves treatment #GLBT is receiving in #Russia #NyetRussianVodka.”

The CEO of Stolichnaya Vodka released a letter Thursday addressed to the LGBT community.

“Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community,” Val Mendeleev said in the letter. “We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference.”

Mendeleev said despite alleged links between the brand and the Russian government, the “government has no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand that is privately owned by SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg in the heart of Western Europe.”

Mendeleev said Stoli is made from Russian ingredients which are blended and bottled at a facility in Latvia.

“We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia. In the past decade, SPI has been actively advocating in favor of freedom, tolerance and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction,” the letter read.

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