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Op-ed: From the Parade to the Front Lines

Op-ed: From the Parade to the Front Lines


The president of SPI North America, known for its Stoli brand of vodka, reacts to Russia's antigay laws with a program aimed at developing LGBT leaders worldwide.

Despite the positive changes for LGBT Americans in many states (such as the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and increasingly pervasive antidiscrimination laws), support for antigay legislation remains a disturbing global trend. 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. 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.

Because we at Stoli -- and all corporations that support equality -- have a responsibility to help make a difference, we have been working with our long-standing partners in the LGBT community to evaluate opportunities to make a significant and strategic investment in the global future of the LGBT movement. And that's why we have decided to partner with the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center by pledging $300,000 over the next three years to support a program that stands out for its potential to narrow this divide: its Leadership LAB initiative.

We believe that in order to effect positive change in America and abroad, corporations must look not just at the communities and organizations they support through sponsorships today, but also how to invest in a collective tomorrow. The divide between the haves and the have-nots will diminish only when today's leaders can provide tomorrow's leaders with the knowledge and skills they will need to shorten the divide. This belief drove our research and our decision to invest in a multiyear program that reaches LGBT leaders both in the U.S. and abroad.

The responses to the attacks on LGBT rights in Russia show that our lives are global and interconnected. Some responded to the attacks on LGBT rights in Russia by boycotting Stoli. It's worth clarifying that SPI Group, which is in no way affiliated with the Russian government, has been the owner of the Stolichnaya brand outside of Russia since 1997. The Stolichnaya made in Russia for the local market is owned by a state-controlled entity. We feel it is important to raise our voice again and let the LGBT community know we share the same desire for justice and equality. And we are invested in achieving a brighter tomorrow for all.

We are proud to be working with the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center to make our joint vision possible through the Leadership LAB, which empowers LGBT people to defeat prejudice locally, while developing leaders in LGBT communities in the U.S. and around the world. We're convinced that cultivating leaders on a local level, wherever they may be, will translate into lasting and meaningful change. Over the next few months, the program will provide leadership mentoring, internships, training -- and even on-the-ground staff support in select communities.

With so much more to be done, we must work together -- as a global community of organizations, corporations, and people -- to foster effective leadership and support LGBT people in need. Engaging advocates who will help create fundamental change for this community is of the utmost importance to Stoli.

These are not simply LGBT rights. These are basic human rights. Success in achieving them universally, unequivocally and irrevocably, will make the world a better and more humane place for all of us.

JOHN ESPOSITO is president of SPI North America.

(Editor's Note: In full disclosure, Stolichnaya is a current advertiser with Here Media.)

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John Esposito