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Friday, 9 August 2013

More boycotts - why they matter

No doubt you have come across the great gay Russian vodka boycott (which means you’ve actually only got a tenth of the story because it’s actually the Russian boycott, but the vodka gets the most attention for the booze and for reasons I will go into). And there has been much mocking and deflecting. Oh boy has there been deflecting.

“The company’s Latvian!” they cry

Well, firstly, that’s not true – not with all its products coming from Russia and its roots still heavily in Russia and – the main point – the brand making a point of emphasising its Russianness. In fact, before the latest brouhaha, Stoli was downplaying its Latvian-ness and trying to double down on being Russian. Why?

The same reason Audi isn’t just made in Germany, it’s “Vorsprung dursch Technik” (likely spelled wrong).

The same reason Boursin isn’t just made in France but its adverts show me quaint French villages and has the phrase “du pain, du vin, du bosin.”

The same reason Alpen tells me about its creamy rolled oats (and how are rolled oats “creamy” anyway? Oats have the consistency of birds nest and sawdust. Creamy is a grossly inappropriate adjective) with a backdrop of rolling Alpine mountains.

Because sometimes country of origin is a selling point – so much so that even products that don’t have it will fake it (look at Dr. Oetker’s Ristorante Italiano rage). And Stoli uses its Russianness the same way. It’s not vodka that happens to be Russian, it is vodka that is superior because it is Russian. This is why a boycott focuses more on Vodka than, say, natural gas. No-one lights up the stove and says “hah, you are using inferior gas from the North Sea! We use only high quality Russian gas!”

This is why Russian vodka is more prominent than the rest of the boycotts – same as the Olympics. Because they’re not just products from a country, they’re products that make that country their brand and a selling point. This is why we have a boycott - to make it clear associating with the brutal persecution of gay people is NOT a selling point

Also, boycotts are a fascinating insight into how little we matter to straight people: so far, fried chicken, a movie, playing winter sports, playing football and vodka are all more important than gay people's lives. It's a powerful reminder of what we mean to straight people


“It’s pathetic! Do you really think not drinking vodka will change the laws? Can’t you do something else!”

Y’know, no matter what we do activism wise there’s always people crawling out of the woodwork to tell us we’re doing it wrong, which more than hacks me off. Firstly – can we do something else? Yes we can. And we are. Shockingly, this isn’t an either/or choice. We can boycott vodka AND boycott other Russian products AND boycott the Olympics AND target Olympic sponsors, AND raise awareness in the blogosphere AND write petitions AND contact the IOC AND contact the Russian embassy AND contact our local politicians AND have demonstrations in front of embassies AND raise funds for Russia and international GBLT groups AND both organise and prepare for demonstrations at the Olympics while simultaneously boycotting them.


I have no idea where the idea came from that we can only possibly do one thing at a time and, if we are deciding to boycott vodka, that means that is all we are doing. You might want to remember that what the mainstream press picks up on is only a tenth of our activities.

And do we expect it to work and change the laws? Probably not – any more than we’ve managed to change the laws in the many other countries that make our existence illegal. But we fight and try and hopefully take a step and campaign and battle and keep in view and keep the fight alive for the long slog.

People criticising about whether or not we’re “effective” by setting a criteria

On that score is it having an effect?

Stoli wouldn’t be bringing in its flawed and very belated anti-discrimination policy while doing its best highlight how wonderfully pro-gay they are (they market to us – don’t confuse that as being pro-gay) if it weren’t. Russian ministers like the minister for sport wouldn’t be trying to downplay their bigotry in the media if it weren’t. The IOC wouldn’t be wringing their hands and weaselling around. Various politicians wouldn’t be making vague speeches about how naughty it is with frowny faces. These are effects.

Is it going to drastically change things? No, alas not. But then we’re hard pressed to even get the UN to include us in genocide laws or our own countries to fully recognise our humanity without provisos or caveats. There is a limit to what a minority population – and by even very generous reckoning we’re less than 10% of the population – that faces considerable discrimination, marginalisation and outright hatred can achieve; especially since most straight folks still don’t give a damn.


We do what we can – with passion and drive and determination and creativity – we do what we can; but there’s a reason we don’t expect miracles or for any victory to be easily – or quickly – won.

And remember, there will never be any shortages of people telling us to sit down, shut up and take whatever abuse the straighties want to dish - all the more reason to keep shouting and keep fighting