LONDON (AFP) – Some of London's biggest gay venues are boycotting Russian vodka as part of a global movement to highlight the Kremlin's anti-gay laws.
The G-A-Y Group, which runs the famous Heaven superclub, is among those removing Russian products after President Vladimir Putin's government banned "gay propaganda" and cracked down on gay rights protests.
"As other countries move forwards (on gay rights), Russia is moving backwards," Jeremy Joseph, founder and owner of the G-A-Y Group, told AFP on Tuesday.
"It's important to show solidarity at a really hard time."
Joseph said he had asked his four venues, including Heaven -- which has a capacity of almost 2,000 -- to take Russian drinks off the shelves with immediate effect.
The Shadow Lounge, which calls itself "Europe's premier gay members' club", and Manbar in Soho said they were boycotting Russian vodka, both naming Stolichnaya as the main brand affected.
US writer Dan Savage called for the boycott last week, urging gay bars to "dump Stoli and dump Russian vodka" over what he called "Putin's anti-gay pogrom".
Christopher Amos, owner of Manbar, said the boycott call had "gone viral among the gay community internationally".
Stolichnaya has already responded to the campaign, issuing an open letter dated Friday condemning the "dreadful actions taken by the Russian government".
Val Mendeleev, chief executive of the SPI Group, which owns the brand, said: "Stolichnaya vodka has always been, and continues to be, a fervent supporter to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
"We also thank the community for having adopted Stoli as their vodka of preference."
He said the Russian government had no control or ownership over the brand, which originated in Russia but is now headquartered in Luxembourg.
Joseph said he hoped the boycott would prompt supermarkets to follow suit, and added that corporate sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi should also reconsider their position.
"Young gay men are being targeted, there's been murders -- there's no protection for them now," he said.
"You can attack a gay man in Russia and not face the consequences."
Compton's, one of many gay venues on central London's Old Compton Street, is taking part, and several of its neighbours said they were considering joining the campaign.
Reports indicate some US bars have also heeded the call, including in Chicago.
More than 1,300 people have signed up on Facebook for a gay rights protest outside London's Russian embassy on August 10.
Putin this month signed a law banning same-sex couples in foreign countries from adopting Russian children.
Last month the country introduced a law imposing jail terms for people promoting homosexual "propaganda" to minors, while dozens were arrested at gay rights protests for which authorities had refused permission.
Also in June, investigators said three men in the eastern region of Kamchatka were suspected of kicking and stabbing their neighbour to death because he was gay.
The murder came less than a month after a 23-year-old man was beaten to death and sodomised with beer bottles in an apparent homophobic attack in the southern city of Volgograd.