Southland bars join Russian Vodka ban

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - As bars around the world, including in West Hollywood, emptied bottles of vodka down gutters today in protest of a series of anti-gay laws enacted across Russia, calls were also renewed for the city of Los Angeles to sever its sister-city relationship with St. Petersburg.  

The California-based Courage Campaign and Los Angeles area gay advocates have circulated a petition calling on the City Council to break sister-city ties with St. Petersburg.   A ban on ``gay propaganda'' first took root in St. Petersburg and became federal law in June.

``Our sister city took this action, made their LGBT residents into criminals,'' said Adam Bink, Director of Online Campaigns for the Courage Campaign. ``We're doing this to educate our friends in Russia that this is not acceptable.''

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that prohibits gay couples -- and couples hailing from gay-friendly countries, from adopting Russian children.   As Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, sports officials there are warning foreigners and tourists that those who violate the ``gay propaganda'' ban and espouse support of homosexuality will be arrested, fined and face deportation.   Despite a previous stalled attempt to suspend Los Angeles' sister-city ties with St. Petersburg, Bink said he believes there is now momentum to revive the effort.

Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin plans to meet with advocates at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center next week to hear the case for cutting ties with the Russian city, but declined to say today if he supports the idea.   Bonin called Russia's laws ``an insult to human dignity and a clear violation of human rights.''   ``I find Russia's anti-LGBT laws to be repugnant and offensive,'' he said. ``This is an injustice that assaults and undermines Russia's place in the international community.''

Bonin's predecessor on the City Council, Bill Rosendahl, pressed for suspending ties with St. Petersburg, but his council motion has been inactive since April. Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose office works closely with sister city program in Los Angeles, said he wants to keep the relationship with St. Petersburg intact. Los Angeles has sister-city relationships with 25 cities in countries around the world.

LaBonge said the two cities' relationship occurs through ``people-to-people'' interactions involving cultural activities and student exchange programs.  Rather than losing touch with the ``people of St. Petersburg,'' he would rather ``keep our channels open so that we can continue to communicate in some way, shape or form,'' he said.  

But petition circulators said Los Angeles should send a message, in the same way it did when it suspended its sister-city relationship with Tehran, Iran in 1979 amid a U.S. embassy hostage crisis.   ``Now is the time for action,'' with the boycott of Russian vodka brands such as Stolichnaya and Russian Standard a ``top news story in Russia,'' Bink said. If Russians ``see the world community is prepared to ostracize Russia and take economic action if necessary,'' they may act to change their laws, he said.

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