I normally agree with Dan Savage, author of the syndicated advice column Savage Love. He uses it as a queer pulpit to make positive change regarding ongoing social issues and debates. Savage also founded the It Gets Better campaign to help struggling LGBTQ youth. If anything, we need more Dan Savages. I admire that when Savage gets upset about something, he has enough readership and gumption to get a national ball rolling to address it.
But this summer Dan Savage has been pushing a boycott of Russian vodka. He says it's something we can all do in solidarity with Russia's LGBTQ community, which by all accounts is under severe duress.
It could be argued that the U.S. has a worse gay rights record than a lot of so-called developing countries, but leaving that aside, it is clear that Russia has decided to pursue draconian laws and excuse violence against homosexuals.
It's an outrage. And although I've heard a lot of arguments as to why gays should go ahead and participate in the forthcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I'm not convinced by any of them. In the face of Russia's vague and terrifying law banning homosexuality in public -- also banning "propaganda" -- the Olympics there should be cancelled -- just as they would be (as Savage notes) if President Vladimir Putin were persecuting Jews instead of gays. There is good reason to fear that Russia's anti-homosexual laws could put athletes in harm's way. But money and the status quo is keeping the Olympics in Russia. And the actions of the International Olympic Committee -- which has essentially asked queers not to ruin their party over a bully on the porch calling people "fags" and stabbing them with broken beer bottles -- have been reprehensible.
On the other hand, boycotting Russian vodka makes little sense, as many have pointed out. Russian vodka companies have no power over the criminal cartel that runs their country. Rather, anger should be directed at the International Olympic Committee, at Olympics sponsors, and at legislators who are allowing the games to proceed in Russia. Leaders in Russia's LGBTQ community have said as much, calling a vodka boycott unhelpful.
Maybe we should listen? Boycotting Russian vodka may not actually do anything except lull people into thinking they're doing something. It's a weak tactic.
The case to boycott Barilla pasta, on the other hand, is much, much clearer. The CEO of the Italian family company, an entitled and apparently PR-challenged Guido Barilla, said in a radio interview that a gay family would never be used in Barilla advertisements. He then questioned gay lifestyles, and said gays shouldn't be allowed to adopt children.
Here a boycott is tactically useful, and if, like me, you believe in tolerance and believe that "family values" include not hating on people in order to advance a bigoted agenda, it is morally required. Make no mistake, Guido Barilla used charged anti-gay language to define "family" politically in order to use it as a wedge for his brand. And his brand can die by those same words. Nothing says Barilla needs to be in our city or even in the United States.
So while it's understandable that Dan Savage pushes for a Russian vodka boycott -- and it may have initially raised awareness -- it most likely won't solve any problems for Russia's LGBTQ community.
But as for the Barilla boycott, we can choose not to eat a product made by a company that stands against the LGBTQ community, and has chosen to define itself against it. This we can respond to.
Guido Barilla has since apologized for his comments, saying in a video, "It is clear that I have a lot to learn about the lively debate concerning the evolution of the family." So far the boycott shows no sign of slowing down, however. As Change.org spokesman Mark Anthony Dingbaum says, "If anything, it appears these campaigns are gaining momentum."
Barilla should simply no longer be invited to our dinner table; the decision was theirs.