Given how fundamental gay rights, street theater, and protest culture are to San Francisco, it probably didn't surprise anyone that local gay activists were among the most zealous -- and visible -- supporters of a national vodka boycott to protest homophobic laws in Russia. Pouring bottles of Stoli on the steps of City Hall wasn't just a one-time act of civil disobedience, but an illustrative convergence of the gay community's many disparate interests.
To this day, local protesters keep exhorting Mayor Ed Lee to ban vodka from City Hall functions, in spite of warnings that the ban would hurt commerce while having no effect on Russian politics. At the very least, it's made for great spectacle.
And now irreverent members of the local LGBT community have even greater material, as Russia gears up for next week's torch relay to commemorate the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a small city flanking the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. This Sunday at 2 p.m. a group of athletes and activists will stage a mock Olympic torch run around City Hall and up Market Street, ending at Hi Tops, the city's first established gay bar.
Spokespeople from the event's sponsoring organizations, Amnesty International and the LGBT collegiate network Go! Athletes, argue that protests like this one will hold Russia accountable for human rights abuses as it drifts into the international spotlight. Amnesty International field organizer William Butkus argued that even by raising awareness, activists might stem the tide of unfair imprisonment and repression.
"... We can't let Mr. Putin get away with oppressive policies that put non-violent activists behind bars," he says.
Sunday's torch rally will coincide with the 40th annual Castro Street Fair, an event replete with street music, rainbow boas, burlesque performances, food vendors, and -- probably -- drunken carousing. We're guessing it won't include Stoli.