US gays pour out anger, vodka over Russia laws

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 gathered momentum in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.

"We're here! We're queer! We're only drinking beer!" activists chanted as the spirit splashed onto the sidewalk. "Russian vodka: infused with hate," read one placard.

The protesters are calling for the repeal of a law signed last month by President Vladimir Putin which bans "propaganda" in support 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.

The US administration has ruled out such a move, citing the lack of success of previous Olympic boycotts.

But Bob Fluet, a co-owner of two gay sports bars in New York, said the vodka boycott was spreading fast. "The movement is starting and the community is supportive," he said.

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.

But the movement has also run into criticism over the targeting of Stolichnaya, 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.

Alarmed by the prospect of losing sales to bars that frequently order upwards of $10,000 dollars worth of vodka per month, the company's chief executive Val Mendeleev has issued an open letter to the gay community recalling the company's support for Gay Pride events in Austria, Israel and South Africa.

"Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be, a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community," the letter says. "We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference."

But bar-owner Fluet said the company could be doing more to put pressure on Putin over the issue.

"The owners of Stoli have to do something to help the community there in Russia," he said. "Make a phone call!"

A US Senator meanwhile urged Russia to provide assurances that the law will not have any impact on gay athletes competing at Sochi.

In a letter to the Russian ambassador in Washington, Senator Ed Markey said that Moscow's new law was "clearly inconsistent" with the International Olympic Committee's charter.

"Many members of international athletic delegations, their families, spectators and support staff proudly identify as members of the LGBT community," Markey, a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party from Massachusetts, wrote to the ambassador, Sergei Kislyak.

"I believe it is essential for them to both feel and be safe from arrest, detention and other forms of discrimination while in Russia," Markey wrote.