Turns out Russia really sucks at being nice to gay people. The country recently passed laws banning adoption for same-sex couples and allowing detention of tourists and foreign nationals it suspects of being gay or even pro-gay. Law enforcement has been turning a blind eye to violence against LGBT folk in the country. It’s a truly awful situation, and as a country founded on the principles of freedom, the U.S. government and individual Americans should register their displeasure in ways that can remedy the situation.
But I’m not here to talk about Russia’s deeply oppressed gays. I’m here to talk about America’s deeply silly ones.
To protest Russia’s institutionalized bigotry, gay bars across the United States are dumping Russian vodkas, particularly the biggest-selling Russian brand, Stolichnaya. In a July 24th blog post, gay rights icon and general right-on dude Dan Savage spearheaded the boycott, urging readers to refrain from quaffing Russian vodka “to show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and straight allies in Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia.”
There’s only one problem, dumping Stoli in the Castro, the West Village and WeHo probably won’t do squat to improve gay rights in Moscow.
Now let's get one thing straight up front, I love me some Dan Savage. You could even say he gets me straight up front. I’ve been reading him since the early 1990s. Whether he’s infiltrating the campaign of an odious right-wing loon like Gary Bauer or Google-bombing the last name of a wacko former presidential hopeful or creating a project that inspires hope in young gay people facing harassment, I consider Dan a role model. He’s consistently smart, funny and willing to piss off those who deserve it most. But while we share a first name (along with an enlightened tolerance of all the wonderful ways people have figured out to cram their bodies into other people's bodies) I don't get his logic on this one.
Stolichnaya vodka was originally produced by the Russian government. But ever since Communism went belly up, all the Stoli consumed outside the country has been produced by a holding company called SPI Group. It’s still confusing though. As Forbes reports, “in the early 2000s Russian courts ruled that Stolichnaya and dozens of other Russian-owned vodka brands should be returned to the state, in an attempt to nationalize the country’s vodka industry… Russia has its own state-owned Stoli, no relation to the one we know, though the labels are almost identical.” So the Stolichnaya we drink over here no longer has anything to do with Russia’s narrow-minded bureaucrats. They're no more responsible for Russian anti-gay policies than Jim Beam is culpable for a U.S. drone strike, even if the drone operator had been drinking Mint Juleps when he took out that unsuspecting kids soccer team in Yemen (h/t Ed Snowden). The Stoli being dumped out at gay bars is produced in Latvia and its parent company, SPI Group, is headquartered in Luxembourg. And as far as I know, the worst thing Luxembourg's ever done is give Monaco the occasional titty-twister (which, let’s face it, Monaco has been asking for).
In point of fact, SPI Group, Stoli’s parent company has come out publicly against Russian sexual discrimination. The front page at Stoli.com currently says the following, in rainbow-tinted letters: “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong with the global LGBT community against that attitude and actions of the Russian government.” Boycotting Stoli primarily hurts SPI Group. And SPI Group appears to be an ally in the fight against anti-gay policies.
Still, I’ve never let being wrong get in the way of a good time before. And I've been a Savage fanboy long enough, I'm not going to give up now. Let's get our boycott on, people! But we can’t stop at Russian vodka. If Stoli deserves to pay the price for the sins of its erstwhile homeland, then it stands to reason that we also boycott…
Did you know that limes are believed to have originated in Malaysia? It’s true. I looked it up in an actual encyclopedia. With pages in it. You know what else comes from Malaysia? Some of the most barbaric anti-LGBT laws in the world, with punishments ranging from fines to prison sentences to death. Still craving that handmade daiquiri at The Abbey? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Jägermeister, Löwenbräu and Rumple Minze
Besides the fact that practically every high schooler in the 1980s got blotto on this stuff, what these three brands have in common is their country of origin—Germany. Now, I didn’t pay so much attention in freshman history class (I was pretty wasted on Rumple Minze), but I do recall Germany being responsible for one of the greatest atrocities in human history. I’m talking about, of course, the musical career of David Hasselhoff. Do you realize that back in 1989, the Hoff’s tune “Looking for Freedom” topped the German charts for three months. Not three minutes, not three hours, we are talking about three fucking months. During the darkest hours of the war against the Nazis, Winston Churchill famously said “If you're going through hell, keep going.” I doubt anyone could or should keep going through this…
Barolo, Chianti, Moscato
Jesus turned water into wine. The Romans crucified Jesus. Coincidence? OPEN YOUR EYES! You threaten Italian winemakers’ profits? You get nailed to a goddamn tree. It’s just not right.
Chopin, Sobieski and Ultimat vodkas
I’m going to put aside for a moment that Poland is a country where it often takes upwards of five people just to screw in a simple light bulb (that kind of reduced productivity creates serious drag on the global economy). Their real crime came back in the 16th century when native Pole Nicolaus Copernicus had the audacity to suggest that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the universe. We all know what happened next. The Martians got wind of our diminished galactic status (and resulting low self-esteem) and decided they could just waltz on down here and start performing unseemly experiments on bewildered farmers, Fox Mulder’s sister and unsuspecting internet columnists. I still sometimes find pieces of unobtanium in my stool.
This pilsner-style beer is produced in Luxembourg. Remember how I said before that this country was harmless? Just throwing them off the scent. You’ve heard of the dreaded puppy kilns of Luxembourg, haven’t you? Oh that’s right you haven’t. Because that’s the way Luxembourg wants it. These sneaky sons-of-bitches burn cute animals for heat and give titty-twisters when you’re not looking. So I'm going to say what no one else is brave enough to: Fuck. Luxembourg.
So OK, but seriously. Humans are dicks. Rummage around in any country’s closet long enough and you’ll find some gnarly stuff. And if you start blackballing booze from every country that committed a human rights violations, pretty soon you’re left with nothing left to drink but Brennivín and Moosehead. Do you really want to live in that world?
Here’s an idea, rather than dumping Russian vodka, let’s take a different page out of the Dan Savage playbook, reappropriation. The same way Savage defanged the word “faggot” back in the nineties by adding a “Hey Faggot” salutation to every letter sent to him, let’s reappropriate Russian vodka–because let’s face it, if the western world stops clubbing, the Russian oligarchs have won.
So no more Bloody Marys! No more Screwdrivers. And heaven forfend, no more Moscow Mules. We will drink Russian vodka, but we will do so on our terms, with a newly-created ‘Liberation Libation’ that sends a clear message to those who would oppress our gay brothers and sisters across the globe. Ladies, gentlemen and ladygentlemen, I give you the QueeRussian.
To make a QueeRussian, start with a Black Russian (1oz each of vodka and Kahlua) which you’ll turn into a White Russian by adding cream. How much? Just go ahead and spurt it all in there. Strain into a shot glass. Then add cranberry and lime–the key ingredients of that Fire Island staple, the Cosmopolitan–and drink immediately. The acidic juices will curdle the cream, causing it to get hard in your mouth. Which I think is an appropriately symbolic suck it to Vladimir Putin and his minions. We shall overcum!
Now I should mention here that the QueeRussian doesn’t taste very good. In fact, it’s downright terrible. That’s also by design, every sip is a bitter reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality around the world. Together we can stem the tide of intolerance… one drink at a time
Dan’s Clean-Conscience Coda
Hey, we’re obviously having some fun here with the western response to this awful situation (I really do love you Dan Savage, please don’t be mad at me). I probably don’t need to tell you, but this is a work of satire. What’s being perpetrated upon the gay community in Russia, however, is no laughing matter. If you’d like to help, there are a number of ways to do so, like joining and donating to Amnesty International as they help fight against human rights violations. Call your representatives and tell them to make a stink to the Olympic committee (the 2014 Olympics will be in Sochi, Russia). And while you’re at it, sign the petition urging Western nations to streamline asylum procedures for gay Russian nationals. All people deserve to be treated equally. Except maybe Gary Bauer.
Check out Dan Dunn and Zane Lamprey’s podcast, Happy Hour with Zane & Dunn. Recent guests include country superstar Kenny Chesney, actress Allison Janney and Time magazine columnist Joel Stein. You can follow Dan on Twitter and Facebook.
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