There was that gay boycott of Coors beer in the 90's. That worked, right? Coors is out of business, right? More recently (and still going on) we boycotted Chick-Fil-A. And they totally went under. And right before that, our boycott of Target took them down. And let's not forget the opposition. One Million Moms' boycott of JC Penney really sent them spiraling into oblivion, didn't it?
Oh... wait. None of those boycotts made a damned bit of a difference to the companies being boycotted. And while as a community, we are much larger in numbers than One Million Moms (with 58,000 followers on Facebook - about 5% of their claimed membership), even we couldn't take down Coors, Chick-Fil-A or Target.
In the light of recent anti-gay politicking under uber-masculine President Vladimir Putin (methinks the lady doth protest too much) and homophobic attacks in the former USSR, LGBT activist Dan Savage has called for a boycott of Russian products. In particular, Russian Vodka. Already bars in Chicago, San Francisco and several other US cities have removed Stoli and other Russian brands from their shelves. In response, the president of Stolichnaya (which operates in Russia and Latvia) has issued a statement decrying Putin's policies, while touting their promotion of and participation in LGBT events all over the world -- except in Russia. He goes on to say that they are a private company with no influence on governmental policies. And he is 100% right.
In the late 70's or early 80's, I remember a call to boycott Chilean grapes. I think it had something to due with the political climate in Chili at the time. It didn't stop me from eating grapes, mostly because I didn't care about the political climate in Chili. And this current call for a boycott of Russian products isn't going to stop people from drinking Stoli or buying gas at Lukoil and will certainly not stop Putin and his homophobic, fascist regime from persecuting LGBT people in Russia. And that's because most Americans don't care about the political climate in Russia.
Support for Marriage Equality may be at an all-time high in the U.S., but most of us are more concerned with being able to afford the gas to get to work, let alone Human Rights violations thousands of miles away in some frozen wasteland of a country we've always considered "less than." Hmmm...sound familiar?
Don't get me wrong, I'm very concerned about Human Rights violations wherever they are taking place. But we need to take care of those same issues here in the States before we can even begin to worry about the rest of the world. Hate crimes against LGBTQ people are on the rise (I suspect because the homophobes are reacting against recent strides in Marriage Equality). Recent events in NYC (one of the gay-friendliest cities in the world) prove that we still have a long way to go before we are equal -- Just ask the African-Americans who are still dealing with racism 40+ years after the March on Selma. Ask the Latino-Americans who are subjected to documentation searches in certain southern states. Ask the flight crew of Asiana Airlines flight 214, who were subjected to a news report featuring sophomoric parody names like "Wee Too Lo" and "Bang Ding Ow." Ask any West Asian/Muslim person in the US how they've been treated since 9/11. Ask every parent of a child who committed suicide last year because of homophobic bullying.
Ask an aging gay atheist what the problem is and I'll be happy to tell you. Ignorance, fear and religion are at the root of both homophobia and xenophobia. Putin's policies are backed by the Russian Orthodox Church, whose leader has said (and I'm paraphrasing here, so don't jump down my throat) that Marriage Equality will bring about the apocalypse. Talk about using scare tactics!
Here's the thing - boycotts are all well and good, despite their ineffectiveness. If nothing else, they raise awareness. And that's not such a bad thing.
How do we fix the problem in Russia? I don't know. Some are calling for a ban on international travel by Russian officials. Others are calling for UN sanctions. Me? I'm calling for fighting homophobia, ignorance and hate here in the U.S. before we start worrying about the rest of the world. We can't fix problems elsewhere until they're fixed here. And while I am encouraged by how quickly things are happening here, I know we have a long way to go before joining the now 16 (with the recent addition of the UK) countries which afford same-sex couples the same rights and privileges as opposite-sex couples.
I still don't eat at Chick-Fil-A, but I shop at Target. I was never a big drinker of Stoli (there are cheaper and equally good, if not, better vodkas on the market) so I won't miss anything by not drinking their products. Coors has moved on, though I rarely drink beer (and when I do, it's Harp or Sam Adams or a local brew-pub's). In general, boycotts don't work. Want to effect change? Write or call your local representatives (a simple Google or Bing search will get you the info you need). Demand sanctions and actions. Demand changes to your state's laws. VOTE! Voting is the single most powerful tool we have to effect change in government policy, and most of us don't even bother. Become involved. Be a voice for change, rather than whining about what you don't like. Support local and national LGBT charities either by donating money or volunteering time. Whatever it is, just don't sit on your ass and do nothing. That never helps. The video below may (and should) be disturbing.