New York City - Demonstrators poured vodka down the drains of New York on Wednesday in protest over new Russian laws that have been widely condemned as anti-gay.
The “Vodka Dump” outside the Russian Consulate in Manhattan came as calls for a global boycott of the spirit and other Russian products over the controversial legislation gathered momentum on social media and amongst gay businesses in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.
The protesters are calling for the repeal of a law signed into law by President Vladimir Putin last month which bans “propoganda” in favour of “non-traditional” sexual relations if it is deemed to be aimed at minors or if it implies equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual relationships.
The legislation provides for fines for Russian citizens and detention of up to 15 days and deportation for foreign nationals.
Putin has also recently approved a law making foreign same-sex couples ineligible to adopt Russian children.
Gay activists say the legislative changes are helping to fuel hate crimes, including two suspected homophobic murders since May.
“We are furious about what is going on in Russia,” said Ann Northrop of Queer Nation, the New York-based direct action group which jointly organized Wednesday's demonstration.
“Now it's illegal to be open about being gay in Russia,” she said. “We will not remain silent. We want the people of Russia to be safe.”
The protesters are also calling for a boycott of the 2014 winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, and for corporate sponsors of the Games, including Coca Cola, Visa and Samsung, to pull their backing.
Bob Fluet, a co-owner of two gay sports bars in New York, said the movement was spreading fast.
“Last Thursday we decided to stop selling Russian vodka at both Boxers bars,” Fluet told AFP. “Since Friday there has been no more Russian vodka in our bars. Other bars in New York and across the country are doing the same. The movement is starting and the community is supportive.”
The boycott movement was launched by US writer Dan Savage last week. It has been backed by some of best-known gay venues in the world, including London superclub Heaven, and dozens of other bars and clubs.
A similar symbolic protest to the one in New York was scheduled to take place in West Hollywood later on Wednesday.
But the movement has also run into criticism over the targeting of Stolichniya, one of the best-known brands of Russian vodka.
The makers of the spirit, the Luxembourg-registered SPI Group, say their “gay-friendly” brand is being unfairly victimized for decisions which they cannot influence.
But bar-owner Fluet said that could not be helped and suggested the drink's owners were well-placed to put pressure on Putin.
“The owners of Stoli have to do something to help the community there in Russia,” he said. “Make a phone call!”