Russian Vodka Boycott: Gay Clubs Join Protest
Some of London's biggest gay venues have decided to boycott Russian vodka as part of a global movement to highlight the Kremlin's anti-gay laws.
The G-A-Y Group, which runs the famous Heaven superclub, is among those removing Russian products after President Vladimir Putin's government banned "gay propaganda" and cracked down on gay rights protests.
Jeremy Joseph, founder and owner of the G-A-Y Group, said: "As other countries move forwards (on gay rights), Russia is moving backwards.
"It's important to show solidarity at a really hard time."
Mr Joseph said he had asked his venues - 2,000 capacity Heaven as well as three other gay nightspots - to take Russian drinks off the shelves with immediate effect.
The Shadow Lounge, which calls itself "Europe's premier gay members' club", and Manbar in Soho also said they were boycotting Russian vodka, both naming Stolichnaya as the main brand affected.
Popular US columnist Dan Savage, along with various other activists and organisations, called for the international boycott last week, urging gay bars to "dump Stoli and dump Russian vodka" over what he called "Putin's anti-gay pogrom".
Gay bars in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere in North America joined the effort from the outset.
Christopher Amos, owner of Manbar, said the call had "gone viral among the gay community internationally".
Hoping to defuse the boycott Stolichnaya has already responded to the campaign, issuing an open letter dated condemning the "dreadful actions taken by the Russian government".
Val Mendeleev, chief executive of the SPI Group, which owns the brand, said: "Stolichnaya vodka has always been, and continues to be, a fervent supporter to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community."
He said the Russian government had no control or ownership over the brand, which is headquartered in Luxembourg.
Some US activists have 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.
Mr Joseph said he hoped the boycott would prompt supermarkets to follow suit, and added that corporate sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, on the Russian coast, should also reconsider their position.
He said: "Young gay men are being targeted, there's been murders - there's no protection for them now.
"You can attack a gay man in Russia and not face the consequences."
Mr Joseph is one of over 63,000 people backing an online petition urging sponsors of next year's Winter Olympics to condemn anti-gay laws.
Targeted at major sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Visa, Samsung and Procter & Gamble, the petition says: "State sponsored homophobia should not be endorsed by your company. Tell Putin you do not support imprisoning and endangering the freedoms of gay athletes, fans, family, friends, and citizens!"
Meanwhile, more than 1,300 people have signed up on Facebook for a gay rights protest outside London's Russian embassy on August 10.
President Putin signed a law earlier this month banning same-sex couples in foreign countries from adopting Russian children.
Last month the country introduced a law imposing prison terms for people promoting homosexual "propaganda" to minors, while dozens were arrested at gay rights protests.
Also in June, investigators said three men in the eastern region of Kamchatka were suspected of kicking and stabbing their neighbour to death because he was gay.