Earlier this week, I ruffled some feathers when I posted about local student Billy Cavallo being named a finalist in the national “Most Original Stoli Guy” competition. Some of you emailed, tweeted and Google-Plussed that gays should be boycotting Stoli because of its affiliation with Russia. Cavallo took notice of the comments and asked if he could post a response on the blog about why he decided to take part in the competition, and offers a few reasons why the gay community shouldn’t boycott Stoli vodka.
I was happy to post it, but want to make it clear that Billy’s opinion on the issue doesn’t necessarily jive with that of G Philly. So now, without further ado, I hand the keyboard to Billy Cavallo:
I’m not much of a vodka drinker. But when one of my friends convinced me to sign up for the “Most Original Stoli Guy” competition this past June, I thought “Why not? It’s summer, let me try something new.” Much to my surprise, on July 25, after a fun Q&A, swinging on a pole, and belting out one of my favorite songs [Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream"], I was able to beat the other five competitors and was crowned Philadelphia’s “Most Original Stoli Guy.” For someone who has never signed up for anything like this, I was shocked and honored to receive such a title, and since then, I have made so many new and amazing friends and had so many doors opened for me that I never would have seen if it hadn’t been for this competition. For this I am grateful.
Now, on September 19 in NYC, I get to compete against the 12 other city winners for the national title. I’ve spoken with a few of the other competitors and I can already tell this is going to be an interesting two days. Besides a trip and a modeling contract, the national winner becomes Stoli Vodka’s national LGBT ambassador. For me, this would be an awesome job to be able to assist my community as a whole. In high school I started our chapter of a gay/straight alliance, and throughout college coordinated programs to educate and teach acceptance to my school community.
I was only slightly aware of the situation in Russia as it was unfolding, and had no clue about the boycotts against Stoli that were occurring until the competition. Since then, I have found myself defending Stoli on numerous social media outlets, trying to explain to those throwing down against it, that Stoli is not a part of Russia’s views and has in fact strived for LGBT rights through many different outlets.
Seeing the changes in legislation in regards to the LGBT community in its early stages, the owner of Stoli moved the company from Russia to Latvia, a small country outside Russia, years ago to avoid affiliation. Stoli, an SPI company, is working directly to influence change in Russia to reverse this legislation that so detrimentally affects our brothers and sisters over there. They are the one group that is close enough to Russia — and knows it culture — that can truly influence change in our favor. So in the words of Patrik Gallineaux, Stoli’s national LBGT ambassador:
“How would you feel if you left your country because of bad government, had the government steal your company there, you and your company continue to support gay rights globally, and then have the same people you have helped want to help punish YOU for it?”
Now I have nothing to gain by supporting Stoli and defending it as a true ally to the LGBT, except the satisfaction that I am doing the right thing. After all this competition has done for me, I feel like its my way of giving back and saying thank you, by showing the public that by not standing behind Stoli, you are not standing behind the LGBT of Russia. For further views on Stoli’s stance on the LGBT community you can find open letters from Val Mendeleev, the CEO, and Patrik Gallineaux, the national LGBT ambassador.
So with all that said, I hope that you will support not only me for the national Stoli Guy competition, but the competition itself, as it is all for a good cause. If you so wish to vote, which sends $1 to Centrelink [a community of LGBT community centers], you can go to Gaycities.com/Stoliguy and look for me under Philadelphia. If you wish to join us, be at the Marquee in Chelsea on Thu., Sept. 19 for an amazing and spectacular time.