Stoli Group USA and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center have announced a three-year partnership to fight inequality by investing in the development of LGBT leaders domestically and around the globe.
Under the partnership, Stoli will donate $300,000 to support the Center’s Leadership LAB (Learn, Act, Build): a program that helps current and future LGBT leaders and allies throughout the country and around the world to develop critical leadership skills. The aim of Leadership LAB is to prepare the next generation of LGBT leaders to effectively advocate for equal rights, build strong organizations, and fight anti-LGBT ballot measures.
“Over the last few years we’ve experienced tremendous gains in freedom and equality for LGBT Americans, but there is still much work to be done, especially in states where organizing for LGBT equality remains very challenging,” said Lorri L. Jean, the Center’s CEO. “And while we’re also making gains internationally, there have been big and significant setbacks. Extremists, acknowledging they’re losing the battle here, are expanding their influence in other countries by demonizing LGBT people and attacking our freedoms. Their influence must be countered. This extraordinary commitment by Stoli Group USA sets a terrific example for all corporations.”
Stoli, known for its eponymous vodka, has marketed itself heavily to the gay community over the years and sponsored various LGBT events. But last summer gay consumers began boycotting Stoli as part of a protest against homophobic laws passed in Russia. In West Hollywood, owners of gay bars such as Micky’s, Eleven and Revolver, joined by City Councilmember John Duran, staged a demonstration before television cameras in which they poured water from Stoli bottles in a gutter to protest the homophobic laws.
“One of the benefits of having public office is that I have the power of the podium,” Duran said during the demonstration. “I can call the press and say we’re having a press conference, and they’ll actually show up. In this case I’m making use of my public office to raise public awareness around Southern California about what’s happening to the LGBT community in Russia.”
But that protest, and others like it around the country, drew criticism from LGBT leaders who noted Stoli’s support for LGBT events and that it not only isn’t headquartered in Russia (its manufacturing operation is based in Latvia) but that the CEO of SPI Group, Stoli’s owner, is persona non-grata in Russia.
“Stolichnaya vodka is not produced in Russia, and it is misleading to say that it is a Russian product,” said a Latvian LGBT rights group that protested the anti-Stoli campaign. “All Stolichnaya vodka for worldwide export is produced in Latvia.”