What started out as Dan Savage's pledge against consuming Russian vodka is now a movement that has gay bars all around the world, from Vancouver to London, dumping Russian vodka to show their displeasure with the country's treatment of gay people—even in the face of one of Russia's prominent LGBT activists saying the whole thing is pointless.
When we last we checked in with Savage's plea for gay people to stop drinking Russian vodka to protest the Kremlin's aggressive anti-gay laws, a couple of gay bars in Chicago had joined in the boycott. Since then, more and more bars around the world have followed suit: London's renowned Heaven nightclub, along with several others venues in the British capital, aren't serving Russian booze; a bevy of Vancouver bars have followed suit, as have venues in Sydney, West Hollywood, New York City and San Francisco.
The ban is part of a growing movement to check Russia's increasingly homophobic political milieu. In a sharply-worded editorial over the weekend titled "Mr. Putin's War on Gays," The New York Times editorial board wrote:
For some time, antigay sentiment has been spreading in Russia’s conservative society, encouraged by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. But Mr. Putin and his government have taken that to a new level by legitimizing the hatemongering in legislation.
Clearly, there's momentum behind this push. But there's still a question of how much the boycott itself is doing to force Vladimir Putin's repressive hand. As I mentioned on Thursday, it's hard to imagine that gay bars boycotting vodka will result in enough economic pressure to change Russia's course. Nikolai Alekseev, a prominent Russian LGBT activist, counts himself among the skeptics. "To be honest, I don’t see the point in boycotting the Russian vodka," he said in an interview with Gay Star News. "It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. The effect will die out very fast, it will not last forever."
Alekseev goes on to add:
And what is the aim of this boycott? The producers, even if they become bankrupt because of the boycott (which is unlikely) will not be able to influence Russian politics and President Putin as well as the decisions of the State Duma.
But the aim of the boycott is not to, say, put Stoli out of business. Nobody has such delusions. Rather, it's about shedding light on Russia's aggressively anti-gay measures. It's not unlike other viral movements — #stopkony, for example — meant, foremost, to raise awareness among the general population.
True, these viral movements often get branded as "slacktivism," a term that suggests people are not really doing anything to help the cause at hand. But, then again, the vodka ban is not asking for your money — only your attention to the plight of gays in Russia and, perhaps, a moment of thought about whether you want to patronize companies that might be a little too friendly with the Kremlin.