New Yorkers dumped vodka into the gutter outside the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side Wednesday during a protest of the country's recently-enacted anti-gay law.
"We should not be silent when a country is being oppressive to our friends," said Duncan Osborne, a member of Queer Nation, which helped organize the demonstration.
About 100 protestors picketed outside the consulate, calling for the Russian government to repeal a law passed in June that bans "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations."
The law has led to an increase in hate crimes, activists said, and would affect tourists, journalists and anyone publicly sharing a pro-gay message. The demonstration in New York was part of a string of protests and boycotts nationwide in responses to the tough measure and another proposed law that would remove children from gay parents.
"It's really hard to believe that we are free when it's limited to some place or some country," said Nina Long, co-founder of the Russian-Speaking American LGBTQ Association and citizen of Belarus, just west of Russia. "You cant be free unless you're free anywhere."
Chanting "We're here, we're queer, we're drinking only beer," the group asked the city to boycott all Russian products—including vodka.
Two bartenders from Boxers NYC, a gay sports bar in Chelsea, dumped six bottles vodka onto the street during the demonstration. Last week, the bar stopped selling all Russian alcohol, including Stolichnaya Vodka.
"We here in New York understand there are ways that we can make a difference," said Robert Fluet, co-owner of Boxers.
Though Stoli CEO Val Mendeleev said the company supports the protestors' objectives and opposes the government's actions in a letter to the LGBT community, Osborne was skeptical of the company's intentions.
"They need to stop trying to convince the gay community to buy their Russian vodka and start telling the Russian government to get rid of these oppressive laws," Osborne said.
Fearing the potential arrest of gay athletes and spectators, protestors also called for a boycott of next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi and for corporations to withdraw their sponsorship of the games.
Bill Dobbs, another member of Queer Nation, said the protests would continue to grow.
"There is plenty of talk about other ways to pressure Russia," Dobbs said.
Long, who has lived in the U.S. since the seventies, is hopeful the protests will make a difference.
"I'm optimistic because I did see change happening so rapidly in America," she said.
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