ACT UP Disrupts Stoli Splash Bash; July 31 Demo Planned at Russian Consulate

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ACT UP demonstrators disrupt the start of the the Most Original Stoli Guy New York competition at Splash on July 30. | YOON SEO NAM
ACT UP demonstrators disrupt the start of the the Most Original Stoli Guy New York competition at Splash on July 30. | YOON SEO NAM

It certainly didn’t have the makings of a fair fight, as a group of less than a dozen members of ACT UP/ NY faced off against a crowd of roughly 150 who had been primed with free rounds of Stolichnaya Vodka. But when the activists disrupted the opening of the Most Original Stoli Guy New York competition at Splash bar in Chelsea on July 30 with signs that read, “Russia Kills Gays” and “Dump Stoli,” the crowd watched in bewildered silence.

Only the event’s drag queen hostess took up the cause of the evening’s liquor sponsor.

“This is what happens when you drink Absolut,” she said, warning the crowd to stick with the Russian import.

As Splash security personnel rushed the demonstrators, ripping up their signs and shoving them away from the stage, she added, “Look at those assholes being taken out of the bar.”

Then with noticeably more anger in her voice, she continued, “This is America, not Russia.”

The ACT UP action came in response to escalating legal sanctions in that country against homosexuality and any discussion of it. The demonstrators were lending their voice to growing demands nationwide that LGBT bars and their patrons boycott Stolichnaya in order to put pressure on a major Russian exporting business. Stoli is bottled by the SPI Group, a company controlled by Yuri Scheffler, identified in a Russian financial publication as one of that nation’s 75 richest people.

In June, the Russian parliament unanimously adopted a law barring “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” –– aimed at information construed as equating same-sex relationships with those between a man and a woman. The penalties include fines that become particularly harsh if such “propaganda” is distributed online or in the mass media. Any outreach or assistance to LGBT minors is banned under the legislation.

Visitors to Russia charged under this law can be arrested, held for 15 days, fined, and deported –– something that has already happened to a group of Dutch tourists working on a documentary about the new law.

The Russian crackdown, widely seen as an effort by President Vladimir Putin to scapegoat both gays and foreigners for domestic political consumption, follows on years of brutal repression of LGBT rights demonstrations in Russia’s major cities. The nation’s political leaders are now discussing a push to remove children being raised by gay and lesbian couples and single parents from their homes.

The ACT UP demonstrators after they were ejected from Splash. | YOON SEO NAM
The ACT UP demonstrators after they were ejected from Splash. | YOON SEO NAM

Mark Milano, one of the organizers of the ACT UP action, said afterward, “It think t was great. They were totally taken off guard. There were Stoli executives in the room who saw their event crashed.”

Bacilio Mendez, another of the demonstrators, said that prior to the demonstration he saw some “really uncomfortable suits” at the club “on their Blackberries texting, ‘Oh, yes, there are a lot of people here.’”

On July 25, Val Mendeleev, SPI Group’s CEO, issued an open letter to the LGBT community saying the company was “upset and angry” about the Russian government’s “dreadful actions” and outlining the support it has given LGBT community events and endeavors around the world. The letter also emphasized that the Russian government has no ownership interest in the company, that SPI is headquartered in Luxembourg, and that Stoli, though made from “Russian ingredients,” is bottled in Latvia.

Brandon Cuicchi, an ACT UP member, stated that, at Splash, “Stoli was doing an event they could not do in Russia. You’re not LGBT-friendly marketing to gay people while saying nothing in your home country.”

The ACT UP demonstrators voiced specific concern that under the new Russian legislation, dissemination of safe sex education, condoms, and AIDS treatment drugs will be targeted as “homosexual propaganda,” something that could cripple effective prevention efforts. The group is calling on UN AIDS to condemn the new Russian law.

The Splash protest occurred on the eve of a demonstration at Manhattan’s Russian consulate at 9 East 91st Street planned for July 31 at noon. That event is being organized by RUSA LGBT (the Russian-Speaking American LGBTQ Association) and Queer Nation, a New York-based direct action organization recently reconstituted from its 1990s roots to combat homophobia and anti-LGBT violence.

In addition to picketing the consulate, the groups will pour Russian vodka into the gutter as part of their “Dump Russian Vodka” campaign. Among the group’s demands are repeal of the new anti-gay Russian legislation, a boycott of all Russian imports as well as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and the withdrawal of leading corporate sponsors of the Games –– including Coca-Cola, Omega Watches, VISA, Pricewater­houseCoope­rs, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Panasonic. NBC will be televising the Olympic competition and has also become a target of criticism.

In a statement released last week, the International Olympic Committee said it had “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.” Implicitly disavowing any broader responsibility for challenging Russia on its institutionalized homophobia, the IOC wrote, “As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators, and the media.”

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

allenrockwell says:
The "Russian" product you people are trying to boycott is made in Latvia by SPI Group, a company headquartered in Luxemburg. This Latvian/Luxembourgian company has ZERO influence over the Russian government and furthermore the company and it's CEO have publicly condemned Russia's anti-gay laws. Great job totally targeting the wrong people.
July 31, 2013, 12:51 am
Patrickjh says:
Thank you, ACT UP! And I think the drag queen host should be named.
July 31, 2013, 1:09 am
Jeton Ademaj says:
i should note the irony of the hostess declaring just before we stormed the stage that "We are here tonight to welcome a new generation of young gay leaders!" indeed. :-D
July 31, 2013, 2:16 am
casey says:
very proud of ACT-UP and very digusted by the uniformed and nasty drag queen and all of the Splash security and patrons. Fuck them. Russian LGBT people are us and we are them. The idiots that attended the Stoli party at Splash could never have made it at Stonewall 44 years ago. They'd have just gone home and gotten ready for the next party. THANK YOU ACT-UP for continuing our proud and out tradition of not putting up with injustices any LGBT people are suffering.
July 31, 2013, 2:32 am
David says:
That´s why I love NY
July 31, 2013, 5:22 am
Jason Mihalko says:
Are people fooled by Russia promising the IOC that "the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games?" More importantly, are people fooled into thinking that this is helpful for those who actually live in Russia, those actually being oppressed, those actually being tortured and treated with great cruelty? Are people actually that self-centered that their only concerns are for visiting athletes and spectators?
July 31, 2013, 7:53 am
Scott_Rose says:
People might not understand the implications of the Russian anti-LGBT laws. In public schools there, for example, when actual and or perceived LGBT students are being harassed, assaulted and/or otherwise tortured on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, all school employees are by law banned from telling the victims "It is O.K. if you are gay." Throughout the country, just the appearance of being gay while outside could result in arrest and prosecution. And, the demonizing anti-gay propaganda that is written into the laws suggests that Russia's survival depends on homosexuality and gays being repressed. Putin has stated that the population will suffer a fatal decline if gays are not repressed. It is a classic anti-minority scapegoating tactic, and one that declares open season on members of the targeted minority.
July 31, 2013, 8:32 am
Bob says:
"They were totally caught off guard".... dream on. They knew you were there standing in the back with your backpacks claiming to be there to support a contestant that wasn't even there and buying drinks during an open bar? Why do you think we had our security standing right there at the stage? I love that your 'massive protest' was 11 people. 11 people? In a city the size of New York, sad.... but good for you for not knowing the facts. (including how many incorrect statements are made regarding your 'disruption' last night).
July 31, 2013, 12:34 pm
MnBear says:
Ah yes, playing PR on behalf of a bar that's closing in ten days anyway. Now THAT'S epic. :-D
July 31, 2013, 1:13 pm
Chuck says:
I do too! Anyone know who it was?
July 31, 2013, 1:15 pm
Michael says:
I don't understand why people care so much about Stoli and billionaires. Are they shareholders or employees or billionaires themselves? For heaven's sake, here's what it comes down too quite simply: Stoli is a mere product--booze to be exact--if it can be used as a component, among others, in a broader effort to heighten awareness here and/or in Russia and elsewhere of the brutal situation that exists in Russia for LGBTQs, then why not use it as such? Frankly, throwing Berezovsky in here misses the point. No one is against him per se, it's not personal, though he happens to be linked to a popular Russian brand, the boycott of which can draw attention to a serious problem. Brands and advertising and billionaires manipulate us all the time. Now, if we need to use them for good, why not? Sure, it's imperfect, it may not get Putin's ear immediately, but nothing is perfect or instant. Protest is process and has to start with something at some point.
July 31, 2013, 2:04 pm
Jeton Ademaj says:
spare us. Stoli is made using Russian ingredients that fill Russia's coffers, and the only thing non-Russian about it is the "Artesian"(!) water they plop in locally. i WOULD like to see a boycott of Russian Oil, however...but Stoli makes a fine target, given their complicity.
July 31, 2013, 4:16 pm
Jeton Ademaj says:
how funny. you "knew" a protest was coming but you were determined to hold your blood-money event anyway...and yet we made our point, irrespective of your stumbling spin. be happy we were happy to stop like we did...AFTER we made out point. :-)
July 31, 2013, 4:19 pm
John says:
For those who say that Stoli is not a Russian vodka: The label says "Russian Vodka" on the front in big letters. Thank you, guys for this action. I hope we see more til there are no "Russian vodkas" served in gay supported bars. Is the use of the term "drag queen" meant to be a slight on the host of the show? What does that mean anyway?
July 31, 2013, 5:47 pm
paul-michael says:
Wrong! The Emcee, after talking smack about Absolut®™, hands the mic to the Drag 'performer' Roxy, who then calls the protestors assholes and says 'This is not Russia".... BAD WRITING AGAIN! (I'm available, but not cheap...) (-; paul-michael
July 31, 2013, 6:49 pm
Mark724 says:
Why in G-d's name did Splash choose to host this event in the first place, knowing the level of anger in the community over Stoli? Whether the boycott is the best strategy or not is beside the point. Splash and its patrons are just oblivious to what's going on in the community and in the world. I realize it's about to go out of business, but still. Way to ruin your reputation and poison a lot of fond memories.
July 31, 2013, 7:11 pm
Bob fluet says:
We need to continue to educate our community to make sure we all truly understand what is going on and how effective we could be with these boycotts.
July 31, 2013, 9:01 pm
Guest says:
Absolut says "Country of Sweden" and is wholly owned by Pernod Ricard, a french conglomerate, learn the products that you wish to boycott, P&G, Kraft, Holiday Inn and Ford have more employees in Russia and pay to Russian Govt in taxes than those farmers who sell their wheat, Why not boycott Smirnnoff it says Russia on it too. This is being funded by some competitor trying to gain market share. There are other vodka with actual plants in Russia and are imported here. SPI has been in lawsuits with the Russian Govt becuase they bought the brand over twenty plus years ago and shipped distillation and bottling outside the country. I am sure the Russian Govt is laughing DUMP MORE. So Stupid
Aug. 1, 2013, 1:30 am
AJ Marsh says:
It's bad enough that we have to contend with the majority sexuality sidelining us, but when people are more interested in looking at abs than considering their human rights, it is a double shame, for it shows how fickle we truly can be as a community, and it plays into the hands of those who detest us by validating their claims that we're merely obsessed with sex.
Aug. 1, 2013, 2:40 am
John K says:
I agree. Thank you ACT UP for raising awareness on this issue. And name the nasty drag queen with his bad politics.
Aug. 2, 2013, 5:16 pm
Dan says:
Splash is bankrupt, kaput, zero, done!! It's shutting its doors for good this week. They are so desperate for last cash cow that they'll probably host a neo-nazi event if it means a few thousand dollars in revenue. Splash is bitter that places like Boxers and XL are growing and expanding, while their tacky theme has not survived with NYC gays. I guess relying on tourists for customer base was not enough to continue sailing the leaking ship. As for the clueless crowd who stood in silence and apathy, don't forget what "Splash demographic" in NYC really represents of current generation of gay men: convenience, hook-up aps, partying, and tanning salons. World affairs and caring for something is not on their to do list in life if it doesn't involve a quickie at some point.
Aug. 2, 2013, 6:18 pm
Alexy says:
Russian consulate demo planner writing concept is very enjoyable one lettering for me. Your Russian demo and In addition to picketing the consulate, the groups will pour Russian vodka into the gutter as part of their “Dump Russian Vodka” campaign writing concept is very handy for me.voice over demo
Dec. 15, 2013, 3:03 am
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Dec. 3, 2015, 3:08 pm

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