Oscar Wilde once wrote that true friends stab you in the front, so it would make sense to call the gays and Stolichnaya the truest of friends.
The deepest stab took place last week when American gay activists urged the LGBT community to boycott the Russian vodka brand due to its complicated link with the Russian government and its recently signed anti-gay law.
Locally, Cleve Jones issued a statement quoting an outdated Wikipedia page; Dan Savage wrote a blog post that read more like a text message in all caps; Castro bars Moby Dick and Hi Tops, like others nationwide that are desperate for their Stonewall moment, pulled Stoli from their shelves; and Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence backed out of appearing at a Stoli event, citing societal pressure.
The problem is that we've only read the headline on Stoli's Russian connection while choosing to be ignorant of the facts in fine print. It's the equivalent of boycotting french fries after France criticized America for invading the wrong country.
The Stoli we think we are boycotting is a product available only in Russia. The Stoli we are actually boycotting (owned by SPI) is one of the gay-friendliest global companies in the world, whose Russian owner lives in exile over similar, um, disagreements with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“How would you feel if you left your country because of bad government, had the government steal your company there, you continue to support gay rights globally, and then have the same people you have helped punish you for it?” asked Patrik Gallineaux, the San Francisco-based national LGBT ambassador for SPI. Even Russian human-rights activists think the vodka boycott is counterintuitive and pointless.
Full disclaimer: My employer, GayCities, is currently spearheading a multifaceted digital campaign and live event series with SPI-owned Stoli. From working personally with them I can tell you SPI cares about the gay community. They respect that the gay community in San Francisco is different than the gay community in Saugatuck, Mich.
This nuanced perspective of the LGBT community is not easily found in most corporations vying for the gay dollar. Beyond that, we were encouraged to have a female-to-male transgender individual compete to be The Most Original Stoli Guy.
“Look at me for God's sakes!” said Gallineaux, a man whom I've seen literally choking on his own glitter. “I dress up half in drag for most events and I receive nothing but praise and promotions within SPI.”
So the problem is not only that this boycott is misinformed, but that it's hurting a brand that has not once wavered in its public support for the LGBT community — not just our rights, but our local businesses and events.
Over the years, Gallineaux has secured more than a million dollars worth of Stoli sponsorships for LGBT nonprofits, including the Castro Street Fair, Richmond-Ermet AIDS Foundation, GLAAD, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Harvey Milk Foundation, AIDS LifeCycle and HRC. Why are we so easily persuaded to start stabbing our own allies?
My fear is that Stoli will be turned off by the whole situation. It will stop employing people like Gallineaux, stop providing incentives to bars like Beatbox, stop spending money to put an ad in the Bay Area Reporter, stop partnering with GayCities and stop helping pride celebrations around the world break even.
What Oscar Wilde failed to mention is that when you stab a friend in the front, that friend might just stab you right back.
And what are we supposed to drink then? Beer?!
Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.