September 3, 2013

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association shouldn’t have accepted a sponsorship from the company that manufactures Stolichnaya vodka, Gay City News associate editor and former NLJGA member Duncan Osborne says in a letter to the association.

Stoli gave $10,000 for a program called Night Out Boston during the organization’s convention in late August. No members of NLGJA raised concerns about the sponsorship during the conference, NLGJA Executive Director Michael Tune told Poynter in an email.

People dismayed by Russia’s anti-gay initiatives have pushed for a boycott of Russian products, including vodka. Some gay bars have taken up the boycott.

Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI Group, which manufactures Stoli, wrote a letter decrying the “actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community” and trumpeting Stoli’s efforts to market itself to gay customers. The vodka is made in Latvia from Russian ingredients and SPI “is controlled by Yury Shefler, a Russian-born billionaire who left Russia a decade ago after falling out with the Kremlin over his support of opposition political parties,” the Associated Press reported.

“Our organization’s fundraising policy evaluates potential donors on their individual merits, without regard to the political situation of the region in which it is based or represents,” Tune told Rachel Cox during the convention.

“If NLGJA’s argument is that rejecting SPI’s money would be akin to taking a position on a controversy then unavoidably, the NLGJA took a position on a controversy by accepting that money,” Osborne wrote in his letter. He continues:

The NLGJA opted to bust a boycott and to take money from a Russian company that has done nothing for the LGBT community except market its vodka to us and publish a single letter on its English-language marketing web site objecting to Russia’s anti-gay law. If this constitutes being a “fervent supporter and friend of the LGBT community,” as that article on said, then that is a very low bar.

Michael Petrelis quotes a statement from the organization saying it was “grateful” for Stoli’s support and that NLGJA “has expressed its concerns about the safety and freedom of journalists covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi, as well as the need for NBC and other Olympic broadcasters to highlight Russia’s laws regarding homosexuality. We will continue to monitor these issues through the Olympic games.”

Petrelis writes that he’s “very disappointed that NLGJA fails to take into account the political situation of LGBT people in the regions where a corporate donor is based or represents.”

Correction: This post originally said NLGJA Vice-President of Broadcast Ken Miguel gave a quote to Petrelis. Miguel says he’s never spoken with Petrelis about the sponsorship. In an email to Poynter, Petrelis writes that he removed Miguel’s name from his post and that he originally included it because Miguel’s name is on this letter.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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