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Sidetrack Lifts Ban on Stoli Vodka Following Donation to Gay-Rights Groups

By Alex Parker | February 8, 2014 10:07am | Updated on February 8, 2014 12:27pm
 Stoli vodka is back on the shelves of Sidetrack after the company that makes it donated to two LGBT causes.
Stoli vodka is back on the shelves of Sidetrack after the company that makes it donated to two LGBT causes.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — A popular Boystown bar that stopped selling Stolichnaya vodka in protest of Russia's anti-gay laws this summer lifted its ban on the drink this week.

Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted, announced on its Facebook page Thursday it will once again serve Stoli after the company that makes it donated $300,000 to a gay-rights group.

"As Russia prepares to launch these Olympic games, TODAY Stoli has allied itself on the side of LGBT Freedom and will once again be on the shelves at Sidetrack," the bar said on Facebook.

It called Stoli an "ally" following the $300,000 donation to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. The Chicago Phoenix reported the brand also donated $150,000 to the Russian Freedom Fund, a cause supporting the Russian LGBT community, which is backed by Sidetrack and other gay bars.

The ban was instituted in July in response to Russia's strict anti-gay laws. Though manufactured in Latvia, Stoli is often mistaken for a Russian product.

Sidetrack owner Art Johnston said the ban on Stoli vodka, which was implemented at gay bars across the country, was "one of the single most successful consumer actions that I've ever seen."

He praised Stoli for its donation, and said the boycott helped raised awareness of the strict Russian laws targeted gays.

"I'm actually quite thrilled to have them back, in Chicago at least, in our good graces," he said.

John Esposito, president of Stoli vodka's American distribution group, SPI North America, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Advocate, laying out the company's position.

"The attacks on the freedoms of LGBT people in Russia and around the world have given the global community a platform to rally around and create a tremendous opportunity to push for progress," he wrote. "Stoli’s position on these human rights abuses is clear and emphatic: we stand with the LGBT community and we share the same desire for justice and equality."

Russia's anti-gay laws have come under scrutiny as the world's attention focuses on the Olympic Games in Sochi. President Barack Obama's hand-picked American delegation is headed by openly gay figure skater Brian Boitano. Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who has campaigned for women's rights and is gay, was part of the delegation, but pulled out to attend to her ailing mother, who died Friday.

“There is no doubt we wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination in anything, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and one of the wonderful things about the Olympics is that you are judged by your merit,” Obama said to NBC's Bob Costas in an interview ahead of Friday's Opening Ceremonies.

Johnston, a longtime LGBT activist, said he thinks the attention paid to Russia's laws targeting gays may make the country's leaders aware "what they're doing is unacceptable. That's the beginnging of change."