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Bars in WeHo plan Stoli vodka protest over Russian anti-gay laws

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Protesters in West Hollywood plan to dump the contents of Stolichnaya Vodka bottles into a gutter this week to raise awareness about recent anti-gay laws in Russia.

The protest is planned for Thursday in front of Micky's, a gay bar on Santa Monica Boulevard, said West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran, who has been encouraging gay bars to boycott the vodka, which is made from Russian ingredients.

Protesters will use bottles filled with water, not vodka, Duran said.

Numerous gay bars in the city have removed Stoli vodka from their shelves and stopped ordering it from distributors. Bars in New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco are planning to do the same.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed legislation banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," including providing children with information about homosexuality. Gay adoptions also were recently banned in the country.

Human rights activists say the laws have encouraged hate crimes against gays and lesbians and that attacks against gay people have increased.

Bob Yacoubian, owner of the bar Mother Lode in West Hollywood, stopped ordering Stoli from his distributor last week and will not buy it this week.

"Nobody was buying it" this weekend, Yacoubian said.

Yacoubian plans to hang a sign in his bar reading: "Russia's intolerance of homosexuality should not be supported by our hard-earned money!"

Micky's also banned Stoli, as did Eleven Bar & Nightclub. In a statement on its Facebook page, Revolver Video Bar announced last week that it would boycott all Stoli products "effective immediately."

About 40% of West Hollywood’s population is gay or lesbian, according to city surveys. It is also home to a large number of immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union, who make up 11% of the city’s population, city surveys state.

Russian bakeries and stores line Santa Monica Boulevard – as do gay bars. Public notices in City Hall, which has a rainbow flag flying outside, are in English and Russian.

The chief executive of the SPI Group, which owns the Stolichnaya Vodka brand, responded to the boycott in an open letter “to the LGBT community” on Thursday in which he referred to the Russian government's "recent dreadful actions ... limiting the rights of the LGBT community."

“Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community,” chief executive Val Mendeleev wrote.

The Stoli brand, he wrote, has no ties to the Russian government. Though the vodka is made from Russian ingredients, it is privately owned by the SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg, Mendeleev wrote.

In another statement on its Facebook page, Revolver Video Bar called the SPI Group's response "mind-boggling" and said that "just because one spends marketing dollars within a lucrative segment does not make one an LGBT ally. That's just business."

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