How Stoli is Breathing Life Into our LGBTQ Legacy

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 21, 2020

In the not-too-distant past, Pride floats thumped along New York City's Fifth Avenue, Market Street in San Francisco, and countless other cities worldwide. These days, pride has taken a new meaning as our community finds new ways to rally. We've also taken time to reflect upon those who have laid the groundwork for the freedoms and fights of today.

Stoli vodka has been at the forefront of these efforts. A brand that puts ideology into action, Stoli has long supported the LGBTQ community in ways that run much deeper than a performative parade float or cocktail cozy. One of these partnerships has been with The Legacy Project.

This October marks the 15th anniversary of LGBTQ History Month, and the opportunity to reflect not only on The Legacy Project but other exciting partnerships Stoli has launched to ensure Pride thrives, no matter our circumstances.

It's been nearly 20 years since Chicago instituted the only Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in the world to recognize the contributions of its LGBTQ citizens, both to the city as a whole and the LGBTQ community. It was a long road to implement the organizational and civic infrastructure to make the Legacy Walk a reality, culminating in The Legacy Walk's inaugural dedication on October 12, 2012 — National Coming Out Day.

Longtime Chicago entrepreneur Art Johnson (co-owner of Sidetrack, one of the city's preeminent LGBTQ bars), introduced Legacy Walk's creator, co-founder and executive director Victor Salvo to Stoli LGBTQ+ Manager and Brand Ambassador Patrik Gallineaux. The synergy was immediate.

"We hit it off immediately," recalls Salvo. "However avant-garde he is, I recognized him as an old soul and his passion for history. Patrik has become a tremendous support, personally and professionally."

The installation, consisting of 20 soaring decorative steel "rainbow pylons," showcases the life and work of notable LGBTQ individuals whose achievements have helped shape the world but whose contributions, sexual orientation or gender identity have been overlooked, minimized or redacted entirely from most historical texts. On behalf of Stoli, Gallineaux wanted to ensure that the brand's sponsorship encapsulated that mission.

Stoli's first very first dedication plate honors Ugandan activist David Kato. A relentless voice for LGBTQ rights, Kato spent his life fighting for equal rights and anti-discrimination, despite being beaten, jailed and publicly shamed on the front page of a tabloid, shortly after which he was murdered.

Stoli also sponsored the dedication plate of Sylvia Rivera, known as one of the loudest voices in the movement following the 1969 Stonewall Riots, particularly calling for transgender rights. With close friend and ally Marsha P. Johnson, the pair co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, an organization committed to helping homeless transgender women.

"Stoli's emphasis has always been on a celebration of the mission. The company has risen to the challenge," says Salvo. "Organizations like ours couldn't survive without their support. History isn't always sexy. To have their support is extraordinary. There are plenty of bigger players that they could have a relationship with, but for them to have taken us on is very gratifying and helps to validate our work."

This year's inductees include Freddie Mercury and Sylvester. In addition, the Legacy Wall — an interactive digital exhibit — brings LGBTQ history to life through a 24-foot-long display available for touring and temporary installation. Stoli worked with the Legacy Project and the San Diego LGBTQ Visitors Center and its founder Eddie Rey to bring the Wall to the Hillcrest Community's pop-up LGBTQ History Museum in 2018 and continues to work with the Legacy Project to widen the visibility of the organization's vital work.

Stoli will be the presenting partner of The Legacy Project's LIVE Global Broadcast, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.(CST) central on National Coming Out Day 2020, Sunday, October 11, in which an international cast of historians, performers, and fans will come together for tributes and performances from across the globe during the live reveal ceremony of the bronze memorials for Freddie Mercury and Sylvester.

CLICK HERE for The Legacy Walk's LIVE Global Event

The Spirit of Stonewall

While most plaques on the Legacy Walk represent people, the Stonewall plaque honors "the riot that started a revolution." The raid on the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1968, was not the first nor the last infraction against the LGBTQ community, but what followed launched the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement.

Stoli commissioned out artist and activist Lisa Marie Thalhammer to design the art for the limited-edition Spirit of Stonewall bottle. A portion of proceeds benefits the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative and its mission to eliminate the social intolerances that profoundly impact the lives of LGBTQ citizens in America and abroad, through awareness campaigns, educational programming, fundraising and public dialogue.

Thalhammer's murals are some of the most photographed locations throughout Washington D.C., but scaling her creative vision to the size of a vodka bottle didn't diminish its cultural impact.

"I believe that art is a way we can communicate our cultural values, says Thalhammer. "The more the visual language of our culture can represent these important values of equality and justice, the more elevated we can become as a society."

Thalhammer's self-described "rainbow energy force" in the design pays homage to artist Gilbert Baker, whose original rainbow flag has become synonymous with LGBTQ pride. The artwork also includes several hands representing peace, love and positive protest — imagery that Thalhammer says communicates "all the activists who have paved the way for equality."

Like generations of artists that have come before her, Thalhammer has found a delicate balance between her artistic vision and the commoditization of her work. "Economic equality is really important," says Thalhammer. "The way you achieve that is when brands and corporations understand what economic value we bring to the table. Stoli has given a lot of money to charities in the LGBTQ community and also paid me to make the work — that's important."

"I don't like brands slapping a rainbow on something and expecting community dollars. Doing artwork that commemorates the untold history of LGBTQ people brings a lot of value because it's a conversation starter and it's a way to engage on a deeper level. Educating people is important. Stoli has done a great job and used their platform. They're not just selling a rainbow bottle; They're educating people about LGBTQ history."

Going Global

Stoli's collaboration with The Legacy Project has made a significant impact on LGBTQ awareness domestically, but the legacy brand, with European roots dating back to 1938, also recognizes the importance of the global movement toward LGBTQ equality.

The brand recently launched the "Harvey 2.0" Europe limited-edition bottle by acclaimed Paraguayan artist Oz Montania. This follows the original 2018 launch, which premiered on May 22, Harvey Milk Day. Montania's latest design commemorates the company's longstanding support of the LGBTQ community in the U.K. and throughout Europe. Stoli has leveraged these showpieces to support and shine a light on the Harvey Milk Foundation, whose work in the past year alone has included state visits and advocacy in parliaments around the globe.

While many of us are familiar with Milk's grassroots political efforts in San Francisco and tragic assassination in 1978, few realize that the rising-star politician's family roots were coincidentally in Latvia, home to Stoli's factory. After receiving a $50,000 donation from the company upon the release of the first limited-edition bottle, the foundation dispersed funds to Mozaika, Latvia's only LGBTQ organization.

"Stoli is working hard to celebrate the past, to educate the present and make changes for the future," says Gallineaux, who has dedicated much of his career to cultivating relationships between the brand and the LGBTQ community and its allies.

The Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic, for example, has been a benchmark for engaging bartenders, entertainers and the nightlife community, but is just a snapshot of a much deeper activation between the brand and consumers. Other initiatives have included producing San Francisco's 2016 Fleet Week (the first-ever military-sanctioned LGBTQ Fleet Week event) and lead support of the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at New York City's Stonewall Inn.

Most recently, in celebration of the importance of living authentically, diversity, and giving back, Stoli has produced an original track, "Stoli Serves Pride," written by performed by #1 Billboard Dance recording artist Debby Holiday.

The video is being featured during a series of impactful LGBTQ community event live stream celebrations and fundraisers during the month. The official live stream event World Premiere took place on October 11, National Coming Out Day, during the Legacy Project's Global Live Stream Extravaganza.

The dance anthem is sure to resonate among LGBTQ fans or anyone who has had to fight for the right to live as their authentic selves.

"Maybe you don't know where you stand tonight
Maybe you're waiting on some kind of light
Dreaming on this ordinary night that might bring anything
Defying what they thought you'd be oh
Maybe all you really need is just to know that
You're not broken."

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.